Pastels of the d'Orsay PDF Print E-mail

Paris Art Studies – Winter 2009


The Art of Pastel in the 19th century – Pastel collection of the Musée d’Orsay


Pastel: A colored crayon consisting of pure pigment mixed with a minimum of liquid binder (gum traganth) to hold it together. It is applied directly to the paper. It can be stumped by using fingers or a soft cloth or applied with the point of the crayon leaving marks and hatches similar to drawing.

16th century – Pastel first invented but rarely used.

18th century – First great period for pastel particularly in France where it is widely used in portraiture.

Principal 18c pastellistes:

Robalda Carriera (Venetian 1675 - 1757), Maurice-Quentin de la Tour (1704 -1788), Jean-Baptiste Peronneau (1715 -1783), Jean-Etienne Liotard (Swiss, 1702 - 1789), Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699 - 1779)

19c pastel painters in exhibition:

Jean François Millet (1814 – 1875)

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836 – 1904)

Edouard Manet (1832 – 1882)

Berthe Morisot (1841 – 1895)

Edgar Degas ( 1834 – 1917)

Paul César Helleu (1859 – 1927)


Odilon Redon (1840 – 1916)

Edmond Aman Jean (1858 -1936)

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1865 - 1953)

Giovanni Segantini (Italian 1858 - 1899)

Jozsef Rippl-Ronai (Hungarian, 1861 – 1927)

Léon Spilliaert (Belgian 1881 - 946)

Ker Xavier Roussel (1867 – 1944)

Maurice Denis (1870 – 1943)

Alphonse Mucha (Czech 1860 - 1939)

Emile René Ménard (1861 – 1930)


late 1850’s – Millet produces more and more pastels for commercial purposes. He recycles older themes and motifs, 

                    many from his prints.

1865 – Millet meets the architect Emile Gavet who buys his pastels with great enthusiasm encouraging him to paint more.

1869 – Suite of Degas pastels of Normandy coast. First laundress painted in pastel.

1870 – Weakening eyesight will encourage Degas to resort more and more to pastel rather than oil painting.

1874 – First important pastel by Manet, a portrait of his wife Suzanne reclining on couch inspired by Quentin-

            Latour colors.

mid 1870’s – Degas begins experimenting with pastel on monotype.

1875 – Year of Millet’s death - Gavet sale of greatest pastel collection (45 works) by the artist.

1877 – Inspired by Degas’ presentation of pastels in third Impressionist exhibition, Manet paints 4 depictions

of young women at their toilette. Between 1878 and 1883 he will execute 70 pastels of busts of modern young women. He will resort to pastel most particularly after he is weakened by illness after 1880.

1880 – First exhibition of Manet’s pastels (15 works) at the offices of La Vie Moderne review in Paris.1885 – 1885 1885 - Founding of Society of Pastelists in Paris. First director is Albert Besnard (1839-1934), followed by Henri

           Gervex in 1913.

1886 – Publication in Figaro or Symbolist Manifesto by Jean Moréas. The suggestive nature of pastel will greatly

            appeal to the Symbolist and anti-realist painters.

1887 – 52 Millet pastels exhibited in his retrospective at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

            Considered by critics and public as the  most accessible and poetic aspects of his work.

They become very popular with collectors. Greatest American collection is that of Quincy Shaw Adams         given to the Boston museum of Fine Arts in 1917.

1890 -  Redon begins experimenting with color and pastel abandoning his “black” manner.

1893 -  Pastel becomes principal technique in Redon’s work.

1895 – Degas switches exclusively to pastel most often applied on the unusual support of tracing paper.

1896 – Major Lévy-Dhurmer exhibition at Georges Petit gallery in Paris.

1900 – Deterioration of precision and detail in Degas’ drawing. Blurred images and heavier lines remain, however,

            powerful and dramatic.

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