Letters on Love, Friendship, Creativity. On the 150th anniversary of the birth of Leonid Pasternak

Yevgeny Pasternak

Magazine issue: 
#3 2012 (36)

Leonid Osipovich Pasternak, a member of the Academy of Fine Arts, professor at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, and one of the founders of the Union of Russian Artists, was born in Odessa on March 22 (April 4) 1862. Art historians consider him a member of a small group of Russian Impressionists, an art movement which is yet to be comprehensively studied.

Tn 1881, Pasternak graduated from secondary school; he had been simultaneously taking classes at the Odessa School of Drawing. In 1881-1882, he attended the department of medicine at Moscow University, as well as studying painting and drawing at the workshop of Yevgraf Sorokin, a member of the Academy of Fine Art.

In 1883 Pasternak transferred to the law department of the Novorossiysk (Odessa) university, which gave him a chance to go to Munich and study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts for several semesters. In his memoir, Leonid Pasternak writes lovingly about "dear old Munich", still untainted by tourism, with its museums, its Russian emigre circle, led by Valentina Serova, the mother of the Russian artist Valentin Serov. For Pasternak, meeting Valentina Serova there led to a friendship between the two families after they later settled in Moscow. Having graduated from the University, Leonid joined the army as a volunteer and served in the artillery in 1885-1886. As always, he sketched everything that caught his eye. One such sketch provided the subject for his first large-scale canvas, "Letter from Home" (1889).

In 1889, Pasternak came to Moscow, rented a ro om in a hotel and began working on this painting. Rumours about a new artist from the provinces eventually reached Pavel Tretyakov. Tretyakov came to see Pasternak and bought "Letter from Home" for his collection "straight off the easel". The painting is now in the Tretyakov Gallery, among many other works by the artist. The artist painted this canvas for a forthcoming annual exhibition of the "Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) group, and the success of "Letter from Home" contributed to Pasternak's reputation as one of the most notable artists of the time. Ilya Repin sent him students, Nikolai Ge called him his successor, and Vasily Polenov looked after his young colleague.

The story of Pasternak's work on " Letter from Home", a painting significant for both his career and the history of the Tretyakov Gallery, is illustrated here with this publication of selected letters which the artist wrote at that time to his fiancee, the pianist Rosalia Kaufmann. Rosalia remained in Odessa, and Pasternak, to fill the void of this unwelcome separation, wrote to her every day. These letters reflect the challenges of his work, his anxiety over the approaching exhibition, other artists' interest in the young painter, and his longing for his bride as he waited for her arrival. They were married in St. Petersburg immediately after the exhibition: the money Pasternak received from Pavel Tretyakov for "Letter from Home" paid for the wedding.

In 1890, Rosalia gave birth to their first son Boris, the future poet; three years later Alexander, who would go on to become a renowned architect, was born. In his memoir, Leonid Pasternak points out that these years were especially significant for him — he met and became close to Leo Tolstoy in 1893, and started his teaching career at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1894.

In 1894 Pasternak painted his "Students before an Examination", which was awarded the first prize at the World Exhibition in Munich, and in 1900 was acquired from the Paris World Fair by the Musee du Luxembourg (it is now in the permanent collection of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.)

Besides teaching at the School of Painting, sketching everything he found interesting — at home and everywhere else — in his little albums, Pasternak devoted most of his time to painting portraits. In addition to his ability to capture the very essence of the individual whose portrait he was painting, Pasternak had the gift — as became clear at the very beginning of his painting career — of capturing "in flight" the constantly changing nuances of his subjects' expressions; this swift impressionistic grasp of the inimitable moments of life was typical not only of his portraits, but of all his art, especially his drawings and sketches. Pasternak's works of that time are characterised by an easy fusion of lyricism and spontaneity; his visual impressions are always confirmed by his poetic view of the world.

In 1898, Tatiana Tolstoy told Pasternak about her father's request that the artist illustrate Leo Tolstoy's new novel, "Resurrection". For Pasternak, an emerging artist who worshipped Tolstoy, this unprecedented offer of cooperation with the world-famous author became one of the "miracles" of his life. Tolstoy admired Pasternak's drawings as portraits — it seemed that the artist was able to guess what the novel's characters looked like, and achieved a resemblance to their real-life prototypes whom he had never met. This series of drawings, now housed at the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, became a unique contribution to Russian life and culture of that time.

In his "People and Situations", Boris Pasternak recalled his father's feverish work on the illustrations for "Resurrection": "I remember how pressed for time father was. /.../ There was the risk that the illustrations would be at variance with the corrections subsequently introduced into it. But my father's sketches came from the same source whence the author obtained his observations: the courtroom, the transit prison, the country, the railway. It was the reservoir of living details, the identical realistic presentation of ideas, that saved him from the danger of digressing from the spirit of the original." (Pasternak, Boris. "I Remember: Sketches for an Autobiography". Pantheon Books, 1959. Pp. 27-28).

Pasternak's daughter Josephine was born in 1900; his second daughter, Lydia, was born two years later. The artist masterfully portrayed genre scenes that feel alive, and appear full of movement; he left a whole gallery of drawings featuring his children, works which convey the musical, warm atmosphere of his family life. Hinting at the success of Pasternak's drawings of his children, people jokingly said that his children "provided for their parents".

In 1901 the Musee du Luxembourg in Paris commissioned five renowned artists, Pasternak among them, to paint scenes from Russian life. Pasternak painted his famous pastel "Tolstoy in his Family Circle", in the evening light. Grand Duke Georgy Mikhailovich of Russia decided to buy the painting for the Museum of Alexander III (now the St. Petersburg Russian Museum) after having seen it at the "Mir Iskusstva" (World of Art) exhibition.

Leonid Pasternak took part in the first few "Mir Iskusstva" exhibitions and was a founder member of the Union of Russian Artists; the Union's yearly exhibitions (1903-1922) became the centre of the country's artistic life.

In 1921 Leonid Pasternak departed for Berlin due to failing health. His wife and daughters went with him, while his sons stayed in Moscow. After the privations of the war and post-revolutionary years, Pasternak experienced a new rise in his creative energy In spite of far from favourable working conditions in the small, modest boarding house where he lived, he enthusiastically set to work and was soon comfortable in the new cultural atmosphere of 1920s Berlin. He painted portraits of many scientists, artists and writers of the time, among them the philologist Adolf von Harnack, the physicist Albert Einstein, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the writer Gerhart Hauptmann, the artists Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann, to mention just a few of these world-famous Western cultural figures. Among the Russians whom he knew and whose portraits he also painted were Alexei Remizov, Lev Shestov, Sergei Prokofiev, the diplomat Yakov Surits and his wife, Anatoly Lunacharsky, and Natalya Rozenel. His paintings of Berlin and the surroundings of Munich, as well as his still-lifes and indoor scenes, executed in soft evening light, are also of interest.

In addition to participating in the "Secession" exhibitions, Pasternak showed his work in the gallery owned by Victor Hartberg, who organized two solo exhibitions of Pasternak's works in 1927 and 1931. The press and public were both enthusiastic about the Russian artist, and followed his work more and more closely.

A large monograph by Leonid Pasternak, which included a long article by Max Osborn, the artist's recollections of Leo Tolstoy, as well as Pasternak's own autobiographical essays, was published in Berlin in 1932. This book is of particular value thanks to its use of excellent colour reproduction techniques and Pasternak's personal supervision of the quality of the reproductions. Most of the copies were destroyed in 1933, at the time when the Nazis publicly burned books — there was not enough time to rescue the monograph from the printing house. An exhibition of Pasternak's works in celebration of his 75th birthday — after which he was planning to send these works to Moscow — was also banned.

At the end of the 1930s, the Nazi authorities began expelling Russians living in Germany in alphabetical order, by surname. Pasternak decided not to wait till they reached the letter "P", and left for London, to visit his younger daughter there on the way home. The Soviet Embassy in Berlin sent his paintings to London, to be later forwarded to Moscow.

Pasternak was devastated by the sudden death of his wife in August 1939. A week after that, World War II broke out. Heartbroken and suffering from angina, Leonid Pasternak lived through the war in his daughter's home in Oxford, where he died on May 31 1945.

A large number of Leonid Pasternak's works are housed in museums and private collections in Russia (the Tretyakov Gallery the Russian Museum, Leo Tolstoy Museum, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and many others in the Russian provinces). Some of his works are also in European and American museums, such as the Musee d'Orsay, Tate Gallery, the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and others. Pasternak's works in the private collection of his grandchildren residing in England are of special importance; his original notes and extensive correspondence are also kept there. Pasternak's daughter Josephine used these materials to publish "Zapisi raznykh let" (Notes from Different Years, Moscow, "Sovetsky Khudozhnik" (Soviet Artist), 1975), published in English as "The Memoirs of Leonid Pasternak", translated by Jennifer Bradshaw, Quartet Books, London, 1982.

Leonid Pasternak's papers and drawings are also housed in the manuscript departments of the above-mentioned Russian museums, as well as in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, the Russian State Library, the Russian National Library, the Institute of Russian Literature (the "Pushkin House"), and in the family archives of Pasternak's descendants in Moscow Several posthumous exhibitions of Pasternak's art in Moscow (1969, 1979, 1990, 2001), as well as in England, Germany and the US were a great success, with catalogues published. A complete catalogue of Pasternak's works painted in Russia was published in Oxford (Leonid Pasternak. "The Russian Years, 1875-1921". Rimgaila Salys. V I-II. Oxford University Press. 1999.)

The Editorial Board express their sincere gratitude to Yelena Vladimirovna Pasternak and Pyotr Pasternak for their active and disinterested assistance in the preparation of this posthumuous article by Yevgeny Borisovich Pasternak.

Our special thanks to the Pasternak Trust, and personally to Michael and Nicolas Pasternak-Slater for their contribution.

Leonid Pasternak to Rosalia Kaufmann

October 8 1888, Moscow 1

... In the next few days the hotel room I would really like may become available: an enormous, so-called Italian window (like the ones in artists' ateliers abroad) with a lot of light; however, this one is not so big, and there is another smallish drawback — the window does not face north, but south, but since the sun seldom shows itself in the winter here anyway, we will have to make do with that...2

I am consoled by the knowledge that Ostroukhov3 has not painted anything for the Peredvizhniki [Wanderers] exhibition yet; nor has Levitan (I was recently introduced to him — a talented young landscape painter, a Jew) or others. And, what on earth, what am I going to do, hang myself if I cannot do it by the closing date? However, I do hope to do it in the end — it seems that there is enough time left...

The other day Weinstein and I went to [Pavel] Tretyakov's gallery. But that was not the best of it. I finally made it to another gallery, that of his brother Sergei Mikhailovich — now there, I say, were two or three treasures I could not have seen even abroad. Remember how I spoke ecstatically of the Spanish painter Fortuny? That's whom I beheld! What a delight, I tell you! And I also saw the Frenchman Dagnan, and the famous Munkacsy — in a word, all the famous Western names.4

The two or three weeks I spent looking for a room, the expense of my trip — it was all worth it to come as a pilgrim and see the works of these masters, and then put my brushes and palette in a corner, never to touch them again. That's how good, my dearest, these works are, especially this Fortuny (it seems more than 100,000 francs were paid for his painting.) And how luxurious and prosperous this place of Sergei Tretyakov's is! I was more impressed than I can say. It is hard to get in there, but Ostroukhov helped me. He is an altogether wonderful man, Ostroukhov that is, always there to lend a hand and help me... /.../

I told you before about our place in society here. Here is an illustration of it: such a well-known artist as Polenov (he painted a huge canvas "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery" , which the state bought for 30,000 rubles; you may be able to see a small author's copy at the exhibition in Odessa5) expressed a wish to meet me, you see, and asked Ostroukhov to bring me over and introduce me to him!

I hear he has a wonderful family...

I had a very fortunate day yesterday. I finally moved into the large room with a big window that I had told you about (28 rubles a month.) A wonderful large room, and what a window! A rarity! Now I can get to work, and let me tell you a secret — with God's help, I shall finish it before the exhibition, even if I have to start all over again.6

And then, what a soldier I came across yesterday! He was splendid — exactly what I needed! This one is for the soldier in the painting who is listening. Such a pleasant fellow. I engaged him for Sunday and gave him my address (I hope he does not deceive me). In any case, I shall not be short of the "types" I need. And then, it will be easy to rent a mannequin here! The same gentleman who gave me the candlesticks made from bayonet tops also gave me an easel as a gift. Wonderful day! I shall be working today or tomorrow. Through Carl7 or Ostroukhov I will be able to meet some officers to get access to soldiers [to use them as models for the painting]...

October 12 1888, Moscow

... Having finished my letter to you today, Weinstein and I went to visit Nesterov8, a talented young artist who had invited us to see his work; we stayed there talking for a long time. Also, by the way, I have to add the following to the interesting news of my life that I have told you about in today's letter: Shaikevich's9 invitation, conveyed through Weinstein, to visit him next Monday. And there is a huge new canvas on my most excellent easel, awaiting my brilliant brush... I am quite ready to start painting, and knowing that you give me your blessing, I will begin my work...

November 8 1888, Moscow

... There is nothing new since yesterday yet, with the exception perhaps of the flattering invitation from the painter Polenov to have dinner with him on Thursday. Ostroukhov promises to be helpful with everything and introduce me to everyone.

Imagine, yesterday, after I learned from Ostroukhov that Serov was in town, I hurried to see him and dragged him to my place for tea.10 We chatted away, almost till eleven. He is going to be married before Christmas.11 In a few days he will be leaving for St. Petersburg to go to the anniversary production of his father's opera "Judith".12 He is going to Kiev after that, where he will be living for about a year, and then he will settle down in Moscow. My best regards to Trubnikova.13 I will have the room if not today, then tomorrow. Serov likes my painting and assures me that I shall finish it before the exhibition...

November 12 1888, Moscow

... I am fortunate to be making more and more acquaintances among artists and others. People are very interested in me and seek my company. Made a few acquaintances among artists. Through Ostroukhov: Korovin, Nesterov — all are young and very gifted. They saw my painting (the soldiers) and liked it; everyone, including me, thinks that I can still finish it in time.

Yesterday I had dinner at the Polenovs' and spent the entire night, till half-past one in the morning, in the company of some young artists and Polenov's delightful family. What a wonderful man Polenov is: simple, good-hearted, a European with a Russian heart! To say nothing of his great importance as an artist! What a delightful family he has, how peaceful his home is, how cosy and lavish the furnishings are.

November 17 1888, Moscow

Yesterday I wrote to you, my darling Rosulya [nickname for Rosalia], about the unfortunate development with the contest.14 I hurry to cheer you up — Ostroukhov promised to arrange everything, so all is not lost yet.

Went to the barracks yesterday and picked some suitable soldier types — they are coming on Saturday [to sit for the painting] . Everything is turning out perfectly. Thanks be to God. Tomorrow I am going to Polenov's place; we will be painting plates, porcelain in general. A good chance to learn, and just what I wanted. /.../

November 20 1888, Moscow

... My painting is moving along swiftly, swiftly! God help me /.../ Recently, when I was not able to make much progress during the day (searching for models, and all the necessary contacts and the like), I painted through the nights, sometimes till two in the morning, and longer. By now I have transferred the correct outline (which is the foundation) from both the old painting and from life. Yesterday I painted the soldiers (there were three of them, and today just one). Now I have to copy the interior and other things from the old painting, which will only take a few days, and then — meticulous work with the models, and with the mannequin which I shall rent; and an officer is going to give me a military tunic, boots, and so forth. With God's help, my work will go well!...

November 30 1888, Moscow

... I did not send you a letter today because a soldier came to sit for me, and I had to make use of the opportunity, as well as the light. I painted all day, benefiting from a very bright, sunny day. The weather is going to be good now. My painting is moving along little by little. The only trouble is that soldiers are busy folk; they can only come on Sundays and holidays, and their barracks are far away. I did stumble upon an officer's batman, and the officer now sends him to me from time to time (against his own interest, as he is left without a servant.) Tomorrow I shall be getting a mannequin for draping (I am renting it from someone I know, at eight rubles a month.) The painting's palette is going to be even more commanding and interesting; at least I was able to attain some shades of colour that had been difficult for me before. For more character I shall show the inside court of the barracks through the window; it will build up the impression. The painting is larger now.15 My room has wonderful light, especially on sunny days (and I have none of the sun.)...

December 8 1888, Moscow

... Let me reassure you — I have almost finished the figure of the listening soldier, and quite successfully too! He turned out very nice, just as I wanted him to be! Thank God! God willing, if it keeps going this way, I may have the painting finished in time for your arrival, which I long for so passionately! My God, how the painting worries me! But with God's help, I still hope to finish it, as long as it keeps going like this! Thank God! The figure turned out very expressive. The accessories are not a worry, everything will come together, and quickly. I just have to paint the reading soldier's face, and the one who is lying down I will copy and give it even more expression. Then I shall have something to take to St. Petersburg with me! Both my wife and my painting!! That'll be good!...

December 9 1888, Moscow

... I was out today and met Surikov, the famous, larger-than-life Russian artist (the huge historical painting "Boyarynya Morozova" is by him); I dragged him to my place, and he saw my painting. He liked it a lot, gave me some advice, and said many insightful and interesting things. What a force he is, a Russian force! What power and originality! He inspired me so much that he had barely left when I grabbed my brushes and began working with the utmost abandon! With him to inspire me, I shall finish it in time, God willing. I was thrilled! I am, in fact, proud of his visit, for he seldom visits anyone, even the really "great" ones, and there is nothing that will tempt him to come out. What wouldn't I give to paint this picture well!! Surikov gazed at your portrait for a long while, but was too tactful to ask who it was. I feel so sorry for him! Poor man, his wife died quite recently!

December 19 1888, Moscow

... I was just starting this letter when a fellow artist, Ivanov,16 came to see me, and when he had looked at some of my drawings he suggested that I should do a few sketches for a new magazine just starting here in Moscow. I was terribly pleased! I will certainly do it — it means some income to pay for my lodgings — I can do two drawings in an evening — maybe 30 rubles or so. This is all I can tell you so far, but tomorrow I will know more and let you know. I do not know what will come of it, but something good may do. For now, I will say no more.

My work is coming along. With God's help, in the next few days I will finish painting the soldier lying down. Tomorrow at two in the afternoon Polenov himself is going to visit me! Let us see and hear what he says...

December 27 1888, Moscow

... First and foremost, my darling, I send you my kisses. It has been a long time, several days since I kissed you or chatted with you — I have been so busy in the evenings with the drawings for the magazine. But I have prepared some already, and what drawings they are! When I showed them to my fellow artists, they were so delighted that they advised me to send them to Petersburg, to "Vsemirnaya Illustratsiya"17, which is what I will probably do — it would be a pity to give them to the local magazine, they might just spoil them, and they pay more over there... I have been painting as much as I could during the day (and with the holidays, it is so hectic now, all those visits!) The day before yesterday the Periodic Exhibition opened, where my "Ladies" are being shown. The students' exhibition of the local branch of the Academy is also open now, as well as the photography exhibition — in short, something new happens in the arts every day. How nice it is to live in a place like this; you see everything and know what is in demand, and what is not. And then the artists, my friends and colleagues, their company. What a beneficial influence it is on an artist! The same, God willing, will be true for you too, when we live here, and I am convinced you will come to love Moscow as much as I do!...

January 2 1889, Moscow

... When I think that I, such a novice in my work, having studied so little, am beginning to find my standing, may have even found it (they admit it, after all!) next to the "generals", I do not despair at all — on the contrary, I have a little too much arrogance! /.../

As to my painting, I shall almost have finished in a few days; I shall then have to correct and add some things here and there. With God's help, I will finish it in time; at least my friends are convinced that I will, when they see how much has already been done. I have ordered an elegant frame, a bronze one for 35 rubles (not even expensive!), and it will be ready before the 20th! With God's help, I will not be in need of money either, and here was I, afraid that I would not have enough money for the frame, the room, etc. In the meantime, God has sent another magazine18, and today — just imagine this, my darling Rosulya — I will be meeting with the editor to collect about 150 rubles for my 10 drawings!! How about that? For a few evenings of work!...

January 15 1889, Moscow

... I almost sent you a telegram just now, but then decided that it made no sense, since you would not learn anything from a telegram. I have news that is extremely important for me! /.../ Here it is: my painting is going to be finished; yes, yes, I will do it in time — rejoice, my sweetheart, my life, my darling! I have not the power to convey my joy to you! You are wondering what can have happened to me, have I gone mad? Oh no, no!

I have just had word from Petersburg, from the artist Savitsky, a member of the "Peredvizhniki" [Wanderers] executive board, and I lay this news at your feet — the exhibition is opening on the 26th, not the 15th!19 And the closing date for submissions is given as the 15th, not 10-12 days from now, as I had thought!

Rejoice! But... but there was also something that I did not like, that upset me; there is no happiness without hardship. You'll have guessed what I am talking about: the proposed decision to see you on the 6th, and our planned departure on the 7th after our marriage... 20

But please let me explain to you in detail (now that I have told you the gist of my news, so as not to "test your impatience") /.../ what I have been feeling recently, and what my state of mind has been, so that you can judge for yourself the effect that the fresh news from Petersburg has had on me.

The thing is that this year's exhibition was to be opened on the 13th, and the paintings to be exhibited were to have arrived at the premises by February 1. I had already heard that back in Odessa, from the society's administrator Konstantinovich21, and later from my fellow artists here. As you know, at the time I was working strenuously; but I was afraid that I would not finish the painting in time, since I could not hope to do it when the closing date was so far away.

I had often been told that the exhibitors should send their paintings in even earlier, but I would console myself with the thought that even if I were to send in my work on the 1st, it would still be accepted. I was working, and the time was flying by. I was still calm up till January. But then January descended upon me, literally descended upon me — the 1st, the 5th, the 10th — and I was not close to finishing yet! The more the days went by, the more desperate I became.

I did not want to even think about the approaching deadline till today, till this minute — I just painted and hurried and bustled about, despaired, got distressed and almost went mad! There was only one consolation for me, and that was you and your imminent arrival; that was what I lived for and what gave me peace of mind — anticipating our happiness, so close now, the bliss of it, our marriage and departure from Moscow; in short, all those things that would make me forget about any painting, and would console me if it were to turn out impossible for me to appear before Russia this year (there, I've said it!) Well, you were the only beacon in that recent hellish mood of mine.

/.../ It was not more than a few hours ago /.../ that I went to see my friend Ivanov, who has also been working on a painting for the exhibition. What I learned from him was even less promising. According to what he had heard, we have to be ready even earlier, more or less by the end of the month, which means everything has to be ready by the 25th-26th, because the painting needs to dry for a day or two, and then it would be on the road for about three days to arrive in Petersburg by February 1. He tried to reassure me by telling me that I would be able to finish the work in the ten days that I have left, but those were his thoughts, not mine at all! By my estimate, there was still more work left than could be done in ten days, if I were to do it decently. It is true, though, that he is in the same boat as me (imagine, everyone seems to be in the same situation, as far as I know); but his painting is half the size of mine, and he may be able to finish it. /.../

So I rushed back to my place — and again, no letters from you! My God! However, there was a letter from Petersburg. At once I guessed that it was the answer to my inquiry about the exact, latest possible deadline for delivery of the painting. /.../

And at last I read that the exhibition opens on the 26th and the deadline for delivery of paintings by non-members is the 15th! It could not be! I re-read the letter; yes, it was not from last year, but written only yesterday, by a member of the Society's Executive Board! I still cannot believe it! You cannot imagine how happy I felt when I read it!! /.../

So now, Rosulya, love of my life, I am at peace, because there is no question that I will be able to finish my painting, with almost a month left to do it, and the most important things are already in place; but what is to be done with your arrival and our wedding? That is the problem now, having got used to the thought of seeing you on the 6th, and with our invitations printed for the 7th... What is to happen? On the one hand, such joy, but misery, too!

January 27 1889, Moscow

... To begin with, my painting is getting a lot of interest from everyone, and praise, praise, praise! I cannot even believe it. I am even afraid; I have to admit that to you. Oh how I wish it that it could look the same at the exhibition, and that everyone would like it as much as they like it here, now!

Yesterday brought me a real triumph: Polenov and his sister22, also an artist, came to see me. How I wish you could have heard their entirely sincere, deep and unbelievably favourable comments! They made me blush. His sister ... as soon as she came in and sat down in the armchair, all I heard was, "Oh, oh, how good this is, how wonderful", etc. Polenov even said to her: "You know, this may be the first time that I have seen a scene and faces depicted with such warmth, in Russian art" (which I think meant that the scene and the people were chosen and shown with such warmth, simplicity and sincerity.) You see, my dearest, how high he aimed! Phew! How much he said here — too much, if you ask me! After all this praise, I do not even know what to do. Is it really so, and am I going to hear the same publicly, in front of all the Russian public — in front of Russia? One thing is true: it is exactly what I wanted; however, whether it really happened... I am, my sweet, talking about the painting as if it were already finished, and here I can gladden you and assure you that it is already as good as finished: I shall not be touching the faces, only add a little bit to the figures, the clothing, the window; in short, go over some details, put in the final touches. To do all that, I have a soldier coming tomorrow. The reclining soldier turned out marvellous, simply marvellous (to some extent, I agree here with the artists' opinions): he is so indifferent, like trailing smoke. The one who is reading is obviously doing so with difficulty, one syllable at a time; he is not interested in the content but in the process of reading — in short, the main thing I was after I did achieve, and did it well (or so it seems to me, for an artist is rarely completely satisfied). As to the atmosphere, it is a great success. The perspective, the depth of the room, and also the glancing, permeating light — all that is there, thank God. Even the cheap prints on the walls are emblematic. In short, it is all there, all clear, everything has character — there is no need for any explanations or underscoring. Sometimes I myself sit in front of it for hours, and occasionally I even admire it... /.../ I am not working so hard now, nor do I worry or get anxious, or anything like that: for me this is a time of tranquillity and profound contemplation. So, there is no need to fear anything or worry for me. I have to admit, I did not expect this... /.../

Would you believe it, I have not been sleeping enough all this time: yesterday, for example, I had to prepare a pen drawing of my soldiers for the catalogue; I was supposed to send it out yesterday, so I kept drawing till three in the morning. When Polenov asked me if I had already sent my drawing for the "Peredvizhniki" [Wanderers] exhibition catalogue which was to be published (as was done last year), I answered that I had not done so because I was not sure if my painting was going to be accepted. He gasped in surprise: "What, a painting like that (his emphasis) — it could not be rejected!" Well, nothing to be done! So I stayed up all night, somehow sketched out the scene and took it to Ostroukhov today; he will send it out with drawings by some other artists...

January 29 1889, Moscow

... My sweetheart, my little dove, why is it that you write so rarely? Everything is going wonderfully well here, so much so that I am afraid I may have to pay too high a price for all this good fortune. Will you believe me if I tell you that all the praise I hear from the artists I know does not touch me; indeed, I am sad, which I can only explain by the fact that you are not with me, and I cannot be entirely happy without you. Oh, I am complaining, complaining shamelessly — I know it myself... After all, one could hardly find anyone happier than you and me now, isn't that so? And yet I am sad here, and you are too, at home. But soon it will all be over, and our happiness will shine out in all its fullness. Meanwhile I should not be complaining about anything; or rather I should not be feeling sad or discontented — now listen to what I am going to write here. I told you the general opinion of my painting, how everyone, everyone praises it, what Polenov and others said about it — in short, I have made my reputation; at least, people know who I am, they know the name "Pasternak"! Yes, they do! Etc, etc... Here is the most important result, something I never thought or dreamed of: Ostroukhov sent me word that ... that... Pavel Tretyakov himself was awfully interested and was certainly going to pay me a visit soon; he had asked Ostroukhov to get my permission for him to come /.../ I am expecting Surikov today! It was his own wish to come. Every day now people visit me to look at the painting and admire it...

January 30 1889, Moscow

... I would like to spend the remaining two weeks working for the magazine to earn some money; the editor is asking for a supply of drawings ahead of time. /.../ During the day, I'll work on the painting, and in the evenings I'll work for the magazine /.../

Oh! Surikov visited me today. Praised, admired — his criticism is very valuable and important to me. You know, I will tell you a secret: I am becoming indifferent to all this praise, I have grown used to it. Ah, but to get a letter from you today! That would make it a day to rejoice and celebrate. I forgot to let you know that if Tretyakov visits me before the exhibition and starts talking about the price I would ask for the painting, I shall decline to discuss it before the exhibition. There is no way I will do it in advance. Also, I would not even want to talk about it until His Majesty visits the exhibition — who knows... What do you think, it would not be bad at all to sell it to one of them? Anyway, His Majesty has asked the artists not to sell their works before he has seen them...

February 3 1889, Moscow

My darling little Rosulya, my dearest!

I have just come back from the theatre; it is one in the morning.23 If I do not write to you now, it may not happen for a while, because every day I have so many different things to do, so many errands, that I do not know I will survive to the 14th! /.../

What can you do — that is Moscow for you; it is a wide field, enormous, especially for me now, when there is talk about me among the artists, with all the praise, the triumphs, the laurels, etc. I have decided that starting tomorrow I shall lock my door and not let anyone in — I am tired of it. I also have to work, and it gets in the way. I do not know what I should write about first — our wedding, the painting, my success, my hopes, my work, the urgent job for the magazine — and here you are complaining that I should be happy, I am a man, who does not have to deal with the laundress or the modiste, who is free, etc. You can see how "free" I am now — my head is spinning, it is after midnight, someone is coming to sit for me at nine tomorrow morning— do I have time to write? /.../

I will briefly tell you my news. Yesterday Shaikevich came over and dragged along a rich collector (what a sleigh!) — Tsvetkov.24 They stayed for about two and a half hours. Sang my praises, enthused over my paintings, my drawings. I sold "Thoughts"25 to Shaikevich for 100 rubles. If I had had anything else, I would have sold it, too — I could see that Tsvetkov wanted to buy something, but I had nothing. He gave me the money right there. Plucked a few drawings away from me. Asked me to stop by any time, as if we were friends, nothing less. Praises, regrets that I was going away... he even talked of commissioning me to paint portraits...

I know for sure that Tretyakov is coming tomorrow! I am being advised to have the painting valued — what do you think? Some say it is worth more that 1,500, some — 2,000. Shaikevich says it is worth 3,000. Some say His Majesty may buy it, others think it would be a pity, and it is better to sell it to Tretyakov for his gallery.26 As for me... I am indifferent for now. Could it be that everything people foretell for me will come true? If so, then — then — my head is spinning!

The only thing that remains is for you to come soon! Make sure you come to me! May you bloom, my Rosulya!


  1. Pasternak came to Moscow in the autumn of 1888 and began working on his painting "Letter from Home".
  2. Pasternak chose a room at the "Kommercheskiye Nomera" (Rooms for Rent) in Lubyansky Proezd.
  3. Ilya Ostroukhov (1858-1922), an artist, art critic, and collector. Pasternak met him in March 1888, at the "Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) group exhibition in St. Petersburg.
  4. Sergei Tretyakov (1834-1892) was a collector of Western European art. His gallery was on Prechistensky Boulevard. After his death, his collection, along with that of his brother Pavel (1832-1898) was donated to the city of Moscow. The above-mentioned works by Mariano Fortuny y Carbo, Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret and Mihaly Munkacsy are now housed at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.
  5. Odessa was one of the cities to which the "Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) group brought its exhibitions.
  6. Pasternak had painted the first version of this canvas before he arrived in Moscow with the intent to paint it again, in a larger format. The original version has been preserved by the artist's family in Oxford.
  7. Carl Pasternak, Leonid Pasternak's cousin, started his career in commerce as a clerk and became a very successful entrepreneur; Leonid relied greatly on his support as he was settling in Moscow.
  8. Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942) lived in the same hotel as Pasternak and was also working on paintings for the "Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) exhibition ("Love Potion" and "The Hermit".)
  9. Samuil Shaikevich (1842-1908), an attorney, amateur artist and collector.
  10. Valentin Serov came to Moscow in Autumn 1888. It is clear from the letter that Pasternak and Serov were already close.
  11. Serov's marriage to Olga Trubnikova was postponed until January 29 1889.
  12. In January 1889 the Mariinsky Theatre marked the 25th anniversary of the first performance of Alexander Serov's opera "Judith".
  13. Serov's fiancee Olga Trubnikova was Rosalia Kaufmann's colleague at the Odessa Imperial School of Music.
  14. We know from the letter of November 14 1888 that the "unfortunate development" refers to the fact that Serov was informed that Pasternak's painting "The Ladies" ("Morning News"), which had been submitted to the 8th Exhibition, could not take part in the contest because it had been unveiled before the set time.
  15. The "old painting", the original study, was smaller: 90 x 41 cm compared to 110 x 152 cm.
  16. Sergei Ivanov (1864-1910) worked in the genre of history painting; he was later Pasternak's colleague at the School of Painting, where he was the head of the etching workshop.
  17. "Vsemirnaya Illustratziya" (World Illustration) was a popular illustrated magazine published in St. Petersburg by the Hoppe brothers.
  18. The illustrated weekly "Russky Satirichesky Listok" (Russian Satirical Leaflet) was published in Moscow in 1882-1889. The magazine's editor was Nikolai Soyedov. The magazine published two drawings by Pasternak: an illustration to Liodor Palmin's poem "On the Anniversary of Ivan Krylov" showing Krylov surrounded with animals from his fables (#4, 1889); the other one was dedicated to the Bolshoi Theatre production of Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute" (#7, 1889.)
  19. "January 15 1889, Petersburg. The 17th Exhibition of the "Peredvizhniki" [Wanderers] will open on the 26th at the residence of Mrs. Botkin in Sergievskaya (former premises of Women's Higher Courses.) Esteemed exhibitors, those wishing to submit their paintings to the ballot are requested to have them delivered to the premises no later than February 15. Paintings may be presented under a pseudonym. Member of the Board K. Savitsky."
  20. This refers to Leonid Pasternak's and Rosalia Kaufmann's wedding, which was planned for February 14 1889.
  21. V Konstantinovich, Secretary to the Board of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions, accompanied the exhibitions to provincial towns.
  22. Yelena Polenova (1850-1898).
  23. Pasternak attended the performance of "The Magic Flute" at the Mariinsky Theatre.
  24. Ivan Tsvetkov (1845-1917), a major Moscow art collector; like Shaikevich, he mostly collected drawings.
  25. "Thoughts" was painted in 1887 in Stepanovka, near Odessa. It is a portrait of a young lady in a garden. The painting was shown at the 16th exhibition of the "Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) group (titled "Thoughts in the Garden"); its current location is unknown.
  26. The painting was sold to Pavel Tretyakov for 1,500 rubles.





Download The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in App StoreDownload The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in Google play