Leonid Osipovich Pasternak

Leonid Pasternak

Leonid Osipovich Pasternak (born Yitzhok-Leib, or Isaak Iosifovich, Posternak; Леонид Осипович Пастернак, April 4 1862 N.S. - May 31 1945) was a Russian Impressionist painter. He was also the father of the novelist Boris Pasternak.


Leonid Pasternak was born in Odessa to the family of a Jewish innkeeper on April 4 1862. He was the youngest of the six children in the family. He started to draw very early, but his family tried to discourage him, as they feared that his drawing would interfere with his studies. His first sponsor was the local street cleaner who began buying Pasternak's art when Leonid was seven years old.

From 1881 to 1885, Leonid studied at the Moscow University, first at the Medical Department, then at the Department of Law. Eventually he decided to devote his life to art and entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich from which he graduated in 1887. He returned to Russia, served the compulsory two years in the army (artillery regiment) and in 1889 started a career as a full-time painter.

The start of his career was very successful. His first exhibited painting was bought by Pavel Tretyakov, the most important art sponsor in Russia of the time. He soon became a popular painter, a member of the so called Polenov circle, that included Valentin Serov, Isaac Levitan, Mikhail Nesterov, Konstantin Korovin. In 1889 he married the pianist Rosa Kaufman, and the same year settled in Moscow. The first born (1890) among the four children the couple had is the famous author and poet Boris Pasternak.

Leonid Pasternak was one of the first Russian painters who labelled himself an Impressionist. In Russia in the 1880s and 1890s such a proclamation was novel enough to draw attention to an artist. Leonid also was a member of the Peredvizhniki and Union of Russian Artists movements. He was a friend of Leo Tolstoy, for months lived in Yasnaya Polyana, and painted many portraits of the great writer, also illustrating his novels War and Peace and Resurrection. He was awarded a medal at the World Fair in Paris (1900) for his illustrations of Tolstoy's novels.

Pasternak was elected a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts (1905), and also taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

In 1921 Pasternak needed an eye surgery, that was performed in Berlin. He travelled there with his wife and two daughters, leaving sons (Boris and Alexander) in Russia. After the surgery he decided not to return to Russia, remaining in Berlin until 1938 when he took refuge from the Nazis in Great Britain. He died in Oxford on May 31 1945.


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