Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pastels (Dry): A French Perspective

The colored pastel stick will bewitch you, without question. It is particularly satisfying to the minds of those curious types for whom the eye is an agent of purest joy. When you use pastels, what you see becomes even odder than you expected. Pastels are a source of mystery and wonder; while you work with them you add continuously to the sum of beautiful colors and textures that have gone before. As your dry, powdery strata give way to more delicate shadings, your pastels steadily distribute their quota of wayward dust all around, coating your fingers, your cuffs, and even your nostrils. This propensity serves to reclaim your attention when you are listening to yourself instead of to the imperatives of pastel technique; the tamed, so to speak, becomes the tamer.

At the close of the eighteenth century, pastels temporarily fell out of fashion with the arrival of neo-classicism, only to return in 1835, when an entire room at the Paris Salon was devoted to the medium.

Delacroix used pastels for his preliminary studies. His interest in the technique was sparked by the Encyclopedia of Diderot and D’Alembert, which established that of all the methods of painting, pastel was the simplest and the most practical, and that at the end of the day you could leave it as it was, retouch it, go back to it later, or be done with it altogether, just as you chose.

Serge Clément and Marina Kamena
The Joy Of Art

(translated from the French by Anthony Roberts)

This might be my favorite image from the nineteenth century. It’s been assigned different titles, but it’s usually called , “On The Lawn” and it was created by Berthe Morisot.

I could write for a week on the content of Morisot’s images, compared and contrasted against her ‘fellow’ impressionists, but the only point I want to make today is that she was, of course, very skilled as an oil painter and reasonably comfortable using watercolors (in a French kind of way). Yet this amazing image was created in pastels.

Degas actually altered his oil painting style after working extensively with pastels, and some of his later oil works have the ‘look and feel’ of pastels.

There’s something magical about pastels.

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