Our Notes & References
In 1920, Altman was invited to the Kremlin to create a bronze portrait of Vladimir Lenin. To complete this task, he spent about six weeks with the Bolsheviks’ leader, sketching his face and daily routine movements, such as sitting at the desk, reading, speaking on the phone and during meetings – apparently, Lenin did not have time or patience to deliberately pose for the portrait otherwise.
The best sketches in preparation of the bronze bust eventually formed this booklet in which Lenin’s facsimile signature is followed by ten reproductions of Altman’s sketches: nine portraits and a view seen from the window of Lenin’s office; each drawing is signed and dated “Nat. Altman, Moscow – Kremlin, May 1920”. All the sketches are rendered in realist style, unusual for Altman’s 1920s art which manifests itself in his design of the suprematist cover – a fine example of Soviet avant-garde book art.
Born in nowadays Ukraine to a Jewish family, Natan Altman (1889-1970) was a Soviet avant-garde artist, sculptor and book illustrator, who experimented in various modernist styles, significantly inspired by Jewish folk art. An ardent supporter of the Bolshevik revolution, he was a member of the main Soviet modernist art groups, including IZO-Narkompros (the Department of Fine Arts of the People’s Commissariat for Education) and Kom-Fut (Communist Futurists), creating agitprop art and stage set designs. In 1928, Altman went on a tour in Europe with the Moscow State Jewish Theatre (GOSET) and remained in Paris until 1935. After his return to Russia in 1936, he was based in Leningrad, working mainly as a graphic designer and book illustrator, and trying to adhere to the party’s new line, favouring socialist realism instead of modernism.