This beautifully inspirational tale deals with unselfish sacrifice - how one man was prepared to sacrifice his own well-being and use his talent to save the life of another.
Two artists, Johanna (Johnsy) and Sue share an apartment in an artists' community which is soon invaded by a malicious disease which spreads its deadly influence, mowing down many members in this struggling but auspicious society. Johnsy is infected and soon gives up hope for survival. She pins her destiny to the survival of one last leaf on a vine which she perceives through her window whilst lying in bed.
The attending physician informs Sue that Johnsy's chance for survival is limited unless she has something to hope for. Sue informs Mr Behrman, an old fellow artist, who is their downstairs-neighbour, about this and he is annoyed that Johnsy has such little hope. He is aware of her wish to die when the last leaf falls.
The next morning, after a vicious storm, Johnsy sees the last remaining leaf still clinging to life. She decides that she wants to continue living: there must be a reason that the leaf has refused to die, and it is a sin to want to die. Johnsy recovers from her illness.
Sue informs her some time later that Mr Behrman had died of pneumonia and the medics had found a burning lamp, a ladder and a palette containing a mixture of colours similar to that of a leaf, next to his completely wet, collapsed body. He had contracted pneumonia and expired due to his frail condition.
It becomes pertinently clear that Mr Behrman had finally painted his long-promised masterpiece - the leaf which saved Johnsy's life, sacrificing his in the process.