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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Leonid Pasternak

This posting marks my one thousandth entry  in this blog.
Leonid Pasternak Self-portrait, 1908
Impressionism was not limited to just the French. The English, the Germans, Americans, even the Russians found the need to indulge. The first Russian to take up the cause was Leonid Pasternak. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, you're probably thinking of the author of the best-selling Russian novel, Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak. He was Leonid Pasternak's son. The 1965 American movie based upon the younger Pasternak's book starred Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Not to be a name dropper, but Leonid was also friends with Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace fame. Working under the tremendous pressures of daily deadlines, Pasternak illustrated Tolstoy's epic novel as it was first being serialized in a Moscow magazine.

Leo Tolstoy, 1908, Leonid Pasternak

Boris Pasternak, 1910,
Leonid Pasternak
The elder Pasternak was born in 1862 in Odessa, the youngest of six children in an Orthodox Jewish family. Young Leonid showed exceptional artistic talent even as a child. He sold his first painting at the age of seven to the local street cleaner. His family insisted he study to be first a doctor, then later a lawyer at Moscow University. Pasternak was twenty-one before he finally broke free from his family's insistence on a secure future to study art at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, not in Russia but Munich, Germany. After two compulsory years in the Russian army, Pasternak began his career in 1889, and by all indications, did very well, falling in with the Moscow intellectual elite of the time. 

Moscow in Winter, 1912,
Leonid Pasternak 

Pasternak sought to stand apart from other Russian artists by declaring himself an impressionist, the first Russian artist to openly embrace the French painting movement. Although he espoused Impressionism early on, Leonid Pasternak's work is usually consider Post-impressionism both chronologically and stylistically. However his portraits and interiors bear little resemblance to that of his French counterparts. Only his few landscapes seem to have been influenced by Fauvists as seen in his Winter in Moscow (left) of 1912. If one were to compare Pasternak with a French painter of Post-impressionism it might well be Paul Cezanne, but without Cezanne's groundbreaking cubist tendencies or structural masses.

Albert Einstein, 1924,
Leonid Pasternak
In 1900, Pasternak was awarded a medal at the Paris World's Fair for his illustrations of Tolstoy's novel. In 1921, he journeyed to London for eye surgery, leaving behind his two sons. In recovering, Pasternak decided not to return to Russia but spent the next several years in Germany. The portrait of a young Albert Einstein (left) is from this period. Being Jewish, with the rise of Nazism in Germany in 1938, Pasternak fled back to England. There he died in 1945.


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