Pastel is a fascinating medium, the use of which crosses the boundaries of what we think of as drawing and painting, and calls into question how we define and distinguish the two.
In an exhibition currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, we can see pastel displaying its qualities that bring it close to oil painting, with a few rougher treatments that start to lean more toward the textures and linear qualities we associate with drawing.
Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th Century Europe showcases some of the finest practitioners of the medium, with a range of portraits both formal and informal.
Some of them, like Chardin’s Head of an Old Man (images above, top) and Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s beautiful Self-Portrait (above, 3rd down) show the visual charm of pastel when used for both its painterly and linear qualities in the same image.
There is a gallery of images from the show in the Met’s site, along with a permanent feature on the Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on the same subject, that also contains a gallery of works.
In addition there is an article by conservator Majorie Shelley, Eighteenth-Century Pastel Portraits: Notes on their Rising Popularity, Materials, Techniques, and Preservation, that delves into the nature of pastel and the difficulty in preserving these relatively delicate works, as well as notes on the practice of pastel portraiture in the period.
Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th Century Europe in on view at the Met until August 14, 2011
(Images above Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin, Maurice Quentin de La Tour, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Jean Baptiste Claude Richard, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard)