Russian Impressionist Leonid Pasternak knew most of the greats of his time, and, as a leading portrait painter, he sketched or painted many of them: Tolstoy, Rachmaninoff, Rilke, Einstein, Pushkin, Chaliapin. Perhaps he is best known today, though, as the father of Boris Pasternak, the great Russian novelist, whose ``Doctor Zhivago'' was condemned by the Soviet government when it was first published abroad. Boris Pasternak won the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature, but rejected it under strong pressure from the government. Now that ``Doctor Zhivago'' is being published for the first time in the Soviet Union, public interest in the Pasternaks is on the rise.
``A Russian Impressionist: Leonid Pasternak, 1890-1940,'' an exhibition of 60 of the elder Pasternak's paintings and drawings, began a two-year tour of the United States at Meridian House International here and continues Feb. 6 at New York City's Jewish Museum.
Helen Ramsey, Leonid Pasternak's British granddaughter, says this exhibition is ``well chosen, although this is just the tip of the iceberg'' of Pasternak's long-unseen works. She estimates that there are an additional 200 oils ``stacked against the wall'' in her Aunt Lydia's home in Oxford, England.
Mrs. Ramsey is the daughter of Josephine Pasternak, one of Leonid's four children, who married a distant Pasternak relative. She and her sister, Lydia Pasternak Slater, disagree on the ultimate disposition of their father's work. ``My Aunt Lydia wants the pictures to be in the family for all time.... My mother and I are of the opinion that the pictures should be sold and should be amongst people and hopefully end in museums.''
In a conversation about the show, its curator, Elizabeth Driscoll, pointed out, ``When you think back to the period of Impressionism, just about every country had its own version. And they all brought their own traditions with them. The French were the purists, totally concerned with light and form.
``Leonid doesn't go that far,'' she continued. ``He spent so much time in Germany, although he visited Paris, and he didn't really write back about major [Impressionist] artists that we think of - Monet for example.'' Speaking of Pasternak's time in Germany, she added, ``If you look at German Impressionism, you'll see the same palette [as Pasternak's] and activity and aggression of the figures. And so I think it's safe to say that the Russians and the Germans never let go of the emotion in the piece, whereas the French tried to be as detached as possible, to look at the form. So what you can find of Impressionism in this work is the technique, the brush strokes and the medium, the use of charcoal and pastel. ... And then the most important thing, I think, in his work is the slice-of-life subject matter: his wife Rosalia, a concert pianist, at her piano or ironing, making jam; or the children coloring Easter eggs; Boris absorbed in reading.''
Leonid Pasternak, his daughters, and wife left Russia in 1921 for Berlin; he moved to England with his daughters after his wife's death just before World War II, and he died there in 1945.
After closing at New York's Jewish Museum May 22, the show, organized by the Smithsonian Institution's SITES program, will be seen in Coral Gables, Fla., Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; St. Joseph, Mich.; Santa Clara, Calif.; and Kansas City, Mo. Other locations are still being arranged.