A leading portraitist and illustrator, Leonid Pasternak was a widely respected and profoundly influential artist of his generation. Born in Odessa, Pasternak studied medicine and law before pursuing his true vocation at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1884. After completing his military service, Pasternak moved to Moscow and taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture from 1894. He exhibited with the Peredvizhniki and Mir Iskusstva and was a founding member of the Union of Russian Artists. The portraits of his contemporaries, which Pasternak painted with remarkable wit, document the leading personalities in the world of art, music, literature and politics: Leo Tolstoy (1901), Maxim Gorky (1906), Alexander Scriabin (1909), Feodor Chaliapin (1912), Gordon Craig (1912), Sergei Rachmaninov (1913), Lenin (1921), Albert Einstein (1927). Having moved to Berlin in 1921, Pasternak had two one-man exhibitions at the Galerie Hartberg (1927, 1932). However, Nazi persecution in the years preceding World War II forced the Pasternaks to seek refuge in Oxford, England, where the artist lived until his death in 1945.
Hailed as a 'Russian Impressionist' for his ability to harness the effects of colour and light and capture the most fleeting signs of movement, Pasternak is renowned for his interior family scenes executed in watercolour or coloured chalks which invite the viewer into his intimate circle. The present painting is a rare example of Pasternak's work in the genre of still life. The intense palette of yellow, pink and red draws the viewer into the composition, which is conceived to cause the eye to dart along the stems to the very edges of the canvas. In this way, Pasternak breathes life into the composition, involving the viewer and encouraging him to consider the transience of the blooms. As Édouard Manet, a pivotal figure in the development of Impressionism, once said: "A painter can express all that he wants with fruit or flowers."