Mr. Behrman was a crusty old painter who lived on the ground floor in the same building as Johnsy and Sue.
“He was past sixty and had a Michelangelo’s Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along the body of an imp.”
Behrman was a “failure as a painter” – one of those artists who was always going to paint his masterpiece, but never quite got it done. He now earned his living by modeling for other art students. He drank too much gin. But, he was
“a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff--in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.”
When Behrman heard that Johnsy was planning to die as soon as the last leaf fell, he scoffed. Unknown to Sue and Johnsy, however, Behrman snuck out and painted his final masterpiece – a leaf. Johnsy watched the last leaf, day after day, but it never fell. She finally realizes that someone was sending her a message, get up, get going, get out of your funk. She decides to do this when lo and behold, the girls find out that Old Behrman has contracted pneumonia and has died. How did he get it? Being out in the cold, painting the last leaf.