Julius Mordecai Pincas was born in Vidin, Bulgaria, to a Sephardic Jewish family of a grain merchant Marcus Pincas. In 1892, he moved with parents to Bucharest, where his father opened a company "Marcus Pincas & Co". His early artistic training was in Vienna and Munich. At the age of 20 in 1905, he adopted the pseudonym Pascin (an anagram of Pincas). About the same time, he began contributing drawings to Simplicissimus, a satirical magazine published in Munich.
In December 1905 Pascin moved to Paris, becoming part of the great migration of artists to that city at the start of the 20th century. In 1907 Pascin met Hermine Lionette Cartan David, also a painter, and they became lovers. They lived together until Pascin left for the United States on October 3, 1914, after the beginning of World War I. A few weeks later on October 31, Hermine David sailed for the United States to join Pascin.
They were married in the United States and stayed there until the end of WW I.
After Pascin returned to France, he became the symbol of the Montparnasse artistic community and is more associated with France than the US. Always in his bowler hat, he was a witty presence at the haunts of the area’s bohemian society.
Despite his social life, Pascin created thousands of watercolors and sketches, plus drawings and caricatures, which he sold to various newspapers and magazines. He studied the art of drawing at the Académie Colarossi and, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, he drew upon his surroundings and his friends, both male and female, as subjects. He wanted to become a serious painter, but in time he became deeply depressed over his inability to achieve critical success with his efforts.
During the 1920s, Pascin mostly painted fragile petites filles, prostitutes waiting for clients, or models waiting for the sitting to end. His fleetingly rendered paintings sold readily, but the money he made was quickly spent. Famous as the host of numerous large parties in his flat, whenever he was invited elsewhere for dinner, he arrived with as many bottles of wine as he could carry. He frequently led a large group of friends on summer picnics beside the River Marne, where their excursions lasted all afternoon.
Jules Pascin, Portrait of Mimi Laurent, oil on canvas, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.
Ernest Hemingway's chapter titled "With Pascin At the Dôme", in A Moveable Feast, recounted a night in 1923 when he had stopped off at Le Dôme and met Pascin escorted by two models. Hemingway's portrayal of the evening is considered one of the defining images of Montparnasse at the time.
Pascin struggled with depression and alcoholism. "[D]riven to the wall by his own legend", according to art critic Gaston Diehl, he committed suicide at the age of 45 on the eve of a prestigious solo show.