In Britain, he is known for his monumental mosaics at the National Gallery, London, Westminster Cathedral and the Bank of England. Being close to the Bloomsbury Group, he was a noticeable figure in London social and intellectual life from 1912 up to the mid-1960s.
In Ireland, he is known for his mosaics at Christ the King Cathedral, Mullingar.
In Russia, he is associated with the Silver Age of Russian Poetry as the addressee of many beautiful poems by Anna Akhmatova, including her Tale of the Black Ring. Anrep was also friendly with Nikolay Gumilyov, an outstanding poet and Akhmatova's husband, and Nikolay Nedobrovo, a talented critic, two prominent figures of the 1910s in Saint Petersburg.
Life and works
Anrep was born in 1883 in Saint Petersburg. His father, Vassily von Anrep, professor of forensic medicine, occupied high positions in the ministries of education and of interior and was elected in 1907 to the Russian parliament, the Duma. From 1899 to 1901 Boris went to school in Kharkov, where he first met Nikolay Nedobrovo, and spent the summer of 1899 in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, learning English. From 1902 Anrep studied in Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg and graduated in 1905. The same year he met Yunia Khitrovo, whom he married three years later.
After Nedobrovo introduced him to the painter Dmitri Stelletsky, Anrep began to be interested in art. In 1908 Boris abandoned his law studies in St. Petersburg University, left for Paris to study art and enrolled at the Académie Julian (classes of J.-P. Laurens). He attended also Académie de La Palette and Académie de la Grande Chaumière. This was followed by a year at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1910-1911 (classes of F. Morley Fletcher).
While in France Anrep had become friends with the painters Henry Lamb and Augustus John, and soon he was acquainted with English artists and intellectuals, among them Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, and Virginia Woolf. He also fell in love with Helen Maitland, a close friend of A. John’s wife Dorelia. They lived together from 1911, had two children, and got married in 1918. However, the marriage was unhappy, and Helen left him to become the lifelong companion of the artist and critic Roger Fry.
In 1912, Anrep worked alongside with the art critic Clive Bell on Roger Fry’s second Post-Impressionist exhibition. He was in charge of the Russian section and presented pictures by Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, and Nicholas Roerich.
Anna Akhmatova and Boris Anrep
Anrep wrote poetry in Russian and in English, influenced by English romantics, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake. His narrative poem Fiza was read in 1913 in author’s absence in St. Petersburg and gave its name to the Society of Poets, which included Anna Akhmatova, her husband Nikolay Gumilyov, and Osip Mandelstam and became the centre of Acmeism, a new trend in Russian poetry.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Anrep went to serve as an officer in the Russian army and fought in Galicia till 1916. Before joining the ranks, he visited Nedobrovo in Tsarskoe Selo and was introduced to Akhmatova, who lived nearby. They met continually during Anrep’s short vacations in St. Petersburg. He described their relationship as a warm friendship, but for Akhmatova it was intensely important and inspired over 30 poems, which trace the passage of their affair from her early hopes and dreams to her bitter disappointment at their parting.
In April 1917 Anrep was called back to London as Military Secretary to the Russian Government Committee and never returned to Russia. The same year, Akhmatova used a line from Fiza as an epigraph to her book White Flock. For many years, they did not communicate. Their last meeting occurred in Paris in 1965, when Akhmatova returned home after receiving the honorary degree from Oxford University, shortly before her death.
Early commissions in England
His first success was the hall of the woman artist Ethel Sands' house in Chelsea, London: a dark turquoise blue floor with Byzantine characters (1917) and the walls, with portraits of Lytton Strachey, his companion Dora Carrington, and Virginia Woolf in male costume (1920).
Another commission was the vestibule in Mayfair for Sir William Jowitt, showing Various Moments in the Life of a Lady of Fashion (1922). Lesley Jowitt was shown telephoning in bed, in her bath, and at a nightclub.
The mosaics Christus Militans and The Vision of St.John were made for the chapel at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (1921). Eight panels, illustrating "The Proverbs of Hell" from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, decorated the octagonal room at the Tate Gallery (1923).
Saint Sophia Cathedral
In 1926 the trustees of Saint Sophia, Bayswater commissioned Anrep to execute a major set of mosaics in the sanctuary of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. He settled on a scheme depicting the incarnation of Christ and the mystery and celebration of the Eucharist. His design takes full use of its Byzantine domes. The prothesis apse vault contains a semi-circular Nativity on its ceiling, using an individual composition. The diaconian apse depicts the Hospitality of Abraham from the Old Testament. At the summit of the vault are trios of angels celebrating the chalice of the Eucharist. The figures are simplified with rigid folds in Byzantine style. Gold tesserae sparkle between blocks of colour. The mosaic is harmonious with the structure, designed by Barry in the 1880s.
Anrep was invited back to decorate further sections of the cathedral between 1932 and 1956. This includes full length figures of the Major Prophets and busts of the Minor Prophets. In the west arch he depicted Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher with the Christ Child, both protectors of the seafarers and travellers of the congregation, a community that was closely associated with shipping and trading.
Commissions in Mullingar, Ireland
Boris Anrep also realised two attractive mosaics of Saint Anne and Saint Patrick within the Cathedral of Christ the King Mullingar. The Cathedral was realised from 1933 to 1939 by Byrne and sons, decorative work was subcontracted to Oppenheimer Ltd, Old Trafford, Manchester. Note carefully the unconventional spelling of Saint Anne in the mosaic; it is spelt Anna. Additionally, the saint’s image bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the poet Anna Akhmatova in her mid-20s.
National Gallery mosaics (1928–52)
Anrep created four colorful mosaics, which decorate the imposing staircase built by Sir John Taylor in 1887 for the entrance hall of the National Gallery. The mosaics were paid for by private patrons, mainly the industrialist Samuel Courtauld and Anrep's friend Maud Russell, wife of the banker Gilbert Russell. Anrep described the subject as a philosophical cycle.
The Labours of Life in the west vestibule (1928) illustrates Man's constructive and creative nature. It includes working with electric drill (Engineering), filming a zebra (Exploring), washing a pig (Farming) and studying the diplodocus in the Natural History Museum (Science). Other pictures are Sacred Love (a family), Art, Astronomy, Letters, Mining, Commerce (a Covent Garden porter), Music (a shell and a flute), and Theatre (a contorsionist).
The Pleasures of Life in the east vestibule (1929) shows Man's recreations. The subjects are Contemplation, Conversation, Football, Hunting, Cricket. Girls are depicted riding a motorcycle (Speed), wiggling in a hammock (Rest), jiving charleston (Dance), swimming (Sea-Horse). Christmas pudding and Mud Pie are childish, while Profane Love shows a man with two girls.
The Awakening of the Muses on the half-way landing (1933) links the themes of the first two mosaics. At the crowing of the cock, Bacchus, patron of pleasures, and Apollo, who inspires the labours, awaken the muses. Here the figures are portraits of the artist's contemporaries. Apollo is Sir Osbert Sitwell, Bacchus is Clive Bell. Polyhymnia is represented as Diana Mitford, Clio as Virginia Woolf. Melpomene is Greta Garbo, and Terpsichore is prima ballerina Lydia Lopokova, Lady Keynes.
Modern Virtues in the north vestibule (1952) is a record of the intellectual life of the 1930s and 1940s. Compromise is presented by the American actress Loretta Young, wearing a Phrygian cap as well as a crown; Curiosity is Lord Rutherford with a splitting atom; Sir Winston Churchill defies a beast in a shape of swastika (Defiance). The ballerina Margot Fonteyn listens to the writer and musician Hon. Edward Sackville-West playing the harpsichord (Delectation); Lady Diana Cooper as Britannia crowns Punch (Humour); the poet T. S. Eliot features in Leisure, Bertrand Russell illustrates Lucidity. The astronomer Fred Hoyle, Augustus John and the poet Edith Sitwell and are portrayed respectively in Pursuit, Wonder and Sixth Sense (named after the poem by Gumilyov). Compassion is a portrait of Akhmatova surrounded by the horrors of war. She is looking towards another panel which depicts Anrep's gravestone, linking together his art and her poetry.
- In “Ana Achmatova and Mullingar Connection” - broadcast on RTÉ 4th May 2008, the poet Joseph Woods recounts the story of the mosaics. Relevant section begins at timestamp 40’43”.
- Olga Stein Akhmatova and Anrep Vestnik 4(341) February 18, 2004 (Russian)