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St. Petersburg’s Sky

by Michail K. Anikushin

MARIA ANIKUSHINA Even before I became an artist’s wife, I was an artist myself. I have loved art ever since I was a child.

I met Michail Anikushin at the Academy of Fine Arts, while I was attending my course. He was the best of all the students.

Being a wife is very difficult, but being an artist is even more difficult. Being the wife of a great artist and remaining an artist oneself is not easy. Probably, my great passion for art and my immense esteem for my husband have given me the chance to remain an artist and be his wife.

We often help each other. I am the severest critic of an artist who is praised by everyone. Sometimes, I make very serious comments. But when he goes into my studio and he doesn’t like something, he gets annoyed and destroys it. And yet we don’t quarrel and we don’t have differences in art. When it comes to art, we have tried to preserve what our great maestro Matveev taught us. Art is part of our life, but our children and grandchildren are also part of our life and we are happy for that.

MICHAIL ANIKUSHIN I am grateful to destiny, which made me meet someone as wonderful as Maria. Like all my family – mother, father, brothers and sister – we are both linked to art.

Our life has gone by like a day, our years of study and the difficult years of the Second World War have gone. At the beginning of the war, my wife lived in St. Petersburg and took part in the defence of the city with all the other students. Then she went to Central Asia, where an institute of the Academy had been transferred. We met again in 1945.

We finished the Academy, she in 1946 and I in 1947. With sacrifices and with very hard work our artistic life began, but we are glad, because we are together and work together, and because we have lovely children and grandchildren.

As a child, I lived with my mother in a delightful place. I took part in exhibitions and was often given a bicycle or a sculpting tool as a prize. I spent my childhood in Moscow, where I regularly and eagerly visited the Tretyakov Gallery, the Musem of Fine Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Western Art, all the places where there was art, in short. At twelve years old I listened to Rigoletto and The Barber of Seville for the first time. I can remember everything as if it were now.

In 1935 I went to St. Petersburg to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. At the time, no candidate was accepted without having finished a preparatory course.

In 1938 a competition was announced for the monument to the poet Risame in the city of Baku, for the eighth centenary of his birth in 1942. The architect Vasily Petrov and I did a design and sent it to Baku. A few months later they informed us we had won the competition. Over seventy-five designs had been presented, sent from many different cities in the country. For us, but especially for me, as I was in my third year at the Academy at the time, it was a great victory.

Then they suggested we enter the competition for the monument to Tchaikhovsky in Moscow. I remember we did a beautiful design, but it was 1941 and the war was starting. Musia and I were in St. Petersburg, the city was under siege: bombings, hunger, cold, tragedies and disaster. So when I came to design the monument To the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, to enter the competition, I didn’t need to study that tragedy, because I had experienced it first-hand.

In 1947, when I had finished my studies, the country was preparing to celebrate the anniversary of Pushkin’s birth. I took part with some of my contemporaries. The design was assigned to me and to the architect Petrov. The monument was to be erected in St. Petersburg, in the important Fine Arts Square, in front of the Russian State Museum. To tell of the work that went into that monument would take up a whole book; suffice it to say that before finishing it I made a wonderful trip to Italy. There were other artists with us. We visited the churches and the museums, we saw the great works of the Italian Renaissance in Venice, Florence, Milan and Rome. It was a magnificent trip, which left a deep impression on me. On my return I finished the monument to Pushkin, which I had begun ten years before. It was inaugurated in 1957, during the great celebrations dedicated to the poet.

My wife Musia said we had been educated so that, for us, art would be more important than anything else. We never thought about honours or prizes. I remember the words Professor Matveev once said to the students: “Don’t try to acquire glory, if necessary it will come by itself, crawling”.


From the art book Il cielo di San Pietroburgo [St. Petersburg’s Sky]