Arts and Culture

Museum Moment: Eighteenth-Century Pastels

18th century pastels

Pastels are made from powdery substances that are fragile and subject to fading.

In accordance with modern museum practice, they are exhibited in very low light or rotated to ensure their long-term preservation. This display is a temporary extension of the new installation in the adjoining galleries for European Old Master paintings.

Absolutely stunning examples of this medium.  Such exquisite execution and all so beautifully preserved.

Described by the great Salon critic and encyclopedist Dennis Diderot as no more than dust, pastel owes it distinctive velvety quality to its powdery surface, which reflects diffuse scattered light. Consisting of finely ground pigment and a white mineral extender moistened with a minute quantity of binder (such as oatmeal whey, mineral spirits, and gum tragacanth) rolled into sticks of color, pastels are made in a progression of tints and shades. Pastelists kept hundreds of such crayons on hand. The popularity of pastel—especially for portraiture—swept across Europe and Britain in the eighteenth century. Unlike today, such compositions were regarded as paintings. They were executed in vibrant colors on paper mounted on a wood strainer, elaborately framed with costly glass and on an intimate scale that suited the refined living spaces of the aristocracy and the haute bourgeoisie. These works have retained their original brilliance because the pastel medium does not contain resins and the surfaces of works in pastel were never varnished and rarely fixed, thereby precluding the darkening or yellowing that so often alters the hues of paintings in oil.

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