Vital Signs

The Other Pasternak

Sir Ernst Gombrich, for one, is glad to hear the news. The eminent art historian stands in the modestly furnished drawing room of his Hampstead house, leafing through his copy of Leonid Pasternak's memoirs, recently published in England. The book's publication had attracted the attention of the Smithsonian Institution, and the first retrospective of the painter's work in the United States is being organized under its auspices. I had just spent several days in Oxford with the artist's family; my briefcase bulging with books, papers, and notes I was able to bring back with me to London, I call on Dr. Gombrich in the hope that he might help me organize some of my own inchoate thoughts. The suburban stillness of this vine-covered house is conducive to introspection. "Beautiful," he says, not looking up from the illustrated volume, "a good painter."

I tell Dr. Gombrich that the Smithsonian newsletter detailing the plans for the traveling exhibition, which will originate in Washington, DC and span the artist's career with some 60 works in all media, describes Leonid Pasternak as "a Russian Impressionist." He winces, glancing at the wall opposite; two tiny Dutch landscapes return his glance. "Impressionist? No," he says quickly, adding pensively, as an afterthought: "But then—who is?"

As Mrs. Gombrich enters the room with some tea for us, he continues:...

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