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)
5 Replies to “18th Century pastel portraits at the Met”
Pastel – Drawing or? The subject has raised it’s ‘head’ at the Western Heritage Art show where the artists who work in pastels find themselves categorized as ‘drawers’ instead of ‘pastel artists’ in a class all themselves.
As you point out, these are examples of why it is difficult to ‘draw the line’ so to speak. Wonderful art here Charlie!
Awesome. Love the pastel work. Will definitely share this with others.
maybe not easy to tell if some pastel works have not been done with the use of an oil medium – paper or any other surface could be prepared for it.
Pastel Artists on the Web: http://www.artistsinpastel.com/2009/11/artists-in-pastel.html
Thanks, Ælle – nice link.
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