1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pastel

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PASTEL, the name of a particular method of painting with dry pigments, so called from the " paste " into which they are first compounded. The invention of pastel, which used to be generally called “crayon,” has frequently been accredited to Johann Alexander Thiele (1685–1752), landscape-painter and etcher of distinction, as well as to Mme Vernerin and Mlle Heid (1688–1753), both of Danzig. But the claim cannot be substantiated, as drawing in coloured chalks had been practised long before, e.g. by Guido Reni (1575–1642), by whom a head and bust in this manner exists in the Dresden Gallery. Thiele was perhaps the first to carry the art to perfection, at least in Germany, where it was extensively exploited in the 17th century; but his contemporary, Rosalba Carriera of Venice (1675–1757), is more completely identified with it, and in her practice of it made a European reputation which to this day is in some measure maintained. The Dresden Museum contains 157 examples of her work in this medium, portraits, subjects and the like. Thiele was followed by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–1770) and his sister Theresia Mengs (afterwards Maron, (1725–1806), and by Johann Heinrich Schmidt (1749–1820).

When in 1720 Rosalba Carriera accepted an invitation to visit Paris, where she was received with general enthusiasm, she found the art of pastel-painting well established; that is to say, it was used to reproduce local colour with truth. She made it fashionable and combined truth with nature. Nearly a hundred years before Claude Lorrain had used coloured chalks as Dutch and Italian painters had used them, often with high finish, employing mainly red, blue and black, for the sake of prettiness of effect and not with the intention of reproducing with accuracy the actual colours of the head, the figure, or the landscape before them. This method of making drawings—rehaussés, as they were called—has remained in common use almost to the present day, especially for studies. It is necessary only to cite among many examples the series of heads by Holbein, the highly esteemed studies by Watteau, Boucher and Greuze, and of John Raphael Smith and Sir Thomas Lawrence, to indicate how general has been the employment of the coloured chalk. In 1747 Nattier (1685–1766) showed a pastel portrait of M. Logerot in the Paris Salon, and his son-in-law, Louis Tocqué (1696–1772), soon followed with similar work. Hubert Drouais (1699–1767) had preceded his rival Nattier in the Salon by a single year with five pastel portraits, and Chardin (1699–1779) followed in 1771. This great master set himself to work in emulation of Quentin de la Tour (1704–1788), who in spite of the ability of his rivals may be regarded as the most eminent pastel list France has produced. His portraits of Mme Boucher and himself appeared in the Salon in 1737; his full strength as a portrait pastel list is to be gauged in the collection of eighty-five of his principal works now in the museum of St Quentin. Then followed Simon Mathurin Lantara (1729–1778), who was one of the first to paint pastel-pictures of landscapes, including sunsets and moonlights, as well as marines, into which the figures were drawn by Joseph Vernet, Casanova and others, and Jean Baptiste Perronneau (1731–1796), the best of whose heads have been often attributed to de la Tour and whose “Jeune fille au chat” in the Louvre, though not the finest, is perhaps the best known of his works, was the last pre-eminent French pastel list of the i8th century. Since then they have been legion; of these it is needful to mention only Girodet and the flower-painters, Jean Saint-Simon and Sprendonck.

Two Swiss painters had considerable influence in spreading the use of pastel—the experimentalist Dietrich Meyer (1572–1658), one of the first to make designs in coloured chalks (and reputed inventor of soft-ground etching), and Jean Étienne Liotard (1702 or 1704–178S), one of the most brilliant pastel lists who ever lived. Two of his works are world-famous, “La Belle Chocolatierè de Vienne,” executed in 1745, now in the Dresden Museum, and La Belle Liseuse" of the following year at the museum at Amsterdam. The latter is a portrait of his niece. Mile Lavergne. In 1753, and again in 1772, Liotard visited England, where his brilliant work, portraits and landscapes, produced a great effect, almost equal to that of de la Tour twenty years before. To the Royal Academy between 1773 and 1775 Liotard contributed the portraits of Dr Thomson, himself, Lord Duncannon and General Cholmondely.

Crayon-painting was practised in England at an early date, and John Riley (1646–1691), many of whose finest works are attributed to Sir Peter Lely, produced numerous portraits in that medium. Francis Knapton (1698–1778), court painter, was a more prolific master, and he, with William Hoare of Bath (? 1707–1702) who had studied pastel in Italy and made many classic designs in that medium, exhibiting at the Royal Academy his “Boy as Cupid,” “Prudence instructing her Pupil,” “Diana,” “A Zingara,” and others, prepared the way for the triumph of Francis Cotes (? 1725–1770). Then for the first time pastel-painting was fully developed by an English hand. Before he became a painter in oil Cotes had worked under Rosalba Carriera, and, although he was rather cold and chalky in his tones, he produced portraits, such as his “Mr and Mrs Joah Bates” and “Lord Hawke,” which testify to his high ability. He was, however, far surpassed by his pupil, John Russell, R.A. (1745–1806), who brought the art to perfection, displaying grace, and good expression in all his pastel work, whether portrait, fancy picture, historical subject, group, or “conversation-piece.” He had brought from Rosalba her four fine pictures representing " The Seasons," and in a great measure founded his style on them. He was strong and brilliant in colour, and when he was at his best his high, smooth finish in no way robbed his work of vigour. Romney (1734–1802) in his single pastel portrait, a likeness of William Cowper the poet, showed that he might have excelled in this medium, which, indeed, was particularly suited to his tender manner. Hugh D. Hamilton (c. 1734–1806) of the Royal Hibernian Academy, produced noteworthy portraits, mainly in grey, red and black, until on the suggestion of Flaxman he abandoned pastel for oil. Ozias Humphry, A.R.A. (1742–1810), painter and miniaturist, is an important figure among the pastel lists, commonly believed to be the first in England who made a point of letting his colour strokes be seen (as by Emile Wauters and others in our own day), contrary to the practice of Russell and his predecessors, whose prime effort was to blend all into imperceptible gradations. Richard Cosway, R.A. (1742–1821) was mainly experimental in his pastels, but his portraits, such as that of George prince of Wales, are forcible and brilliant; those of his wife Maria Cosway (1759–1838) are more delicate. Daniel Gardner (? 1750–1805), whose pictures in oil have often been mistaken for Reynolds’s and Gainsborough’s, gave rein to his exuberant fancy and his rather exaggerated taste in compositions which, in his arrangement of children, remind us of Sir Thomas Lawrence in his more fantastic mood. Gardner marked the deterioration of the art, which thereafter declined, Henry Bright (1814–1873) being almost the only pastel list of real power who followed him. Bright’s landscapes have probably in their own line never been surpassed.

Since 1870 there has been a revival of the art of pastel, the result of a better understanding and appreciation on the part of the public. Grimm’s denunciation of it to Diderot—“every one is agreed that pastel is unworthy the notice of a great painter”—which for many years had found general acceptance, is now seen to have been based on forgetfulness or ignorance of the virtues inherent in the method. It was thought that “coloured chalks,” as it used to be called in English-speaking countries, promised nothing but sketches of an ephemeral kind, so fragile that they were at the mercy of every chance blow or every touch of dampness. The fact is, that with care no greater than is accorded to every work of art, pastel properly used is not more perishable than the oil-painting or the water-colour. Damp will affect it seriously, but so also will it ruin the water-colour; and rough usage is to be feared for the oil-picture not less than for the pastel. Moreover, pastel possesses advantages that can be claimed by neither oil-painting nor water-colour. That is to say, if pictures in these three mediums be hung side by side for a hundred years in a fair light and in a dry place, the oil-painting will have darkened and very probably have cracked; the water-colour will have faded; but the pastel will remain as bright, fresh, and pure as the day it was painted. If Time and Varnish, which Hogarth and Millais both declared the two greatest of the old masters, will do nothing to “improve” a pastel, neither will they ruin it—time passes it by and varnish must on no account be allowed to approach it. The pastel painter, therefore, having no adventitious assistance to hope for, or to fear, must secure at once the utmost of which his method is capable.

The advantages of pastel are threefold: those of working, those of results, and those of permanence. The artist has at his command, without necessity of mixing his colours, every hue to be found in nature, so that freshness and luminosity can always be secured without fear of that loss of brilliancy commonly attendant on the mixing of colour on the palette. Moreover, the fact of pastel being dry permits the artist to leave his work and take it up again as he may choose; and he is free from many of the technical troubles and anxieties natural to oil and watercolour painting. Apphed with knowledge, pastel, which has been likened for delicacy of beauty to " the coloured dust upon the velvet of butterflies' wings," will not fall off. It can, if desired—though this is hardly necessary or desirable—be " fixed," most commonly by a fixatif. If intending so to treat his work, the artist must paint in a somewhat lighter key, as the effect of the fixing medium is slightly to lower the general tone. The fixatif Lamaze is considered the best, but the general consensus of opinion among artists is against the use of any such device. This preparation has the advantage of leaving the colour unchanged, even though it dulls it; shellac fixatif has the effect of darkening the work.

The inherent qualities of pastel are those of charm, of subtlety, softness, exquisite depths of tone, unsurpassable harmonies and unique freshness of colour, sweetness, delicacy, mystery all the virtues sought for by the artist of daintiness and refinement. Pastel-painting is essentially, therefore, the art of the colourist. Now, these very quahties suggest its imitations. Although it is unfair to relegate it—as fashion has foolishly done for so long—to the bunch of pretty trifling which Carlyle called " Pompadourisms," we must recognize that a medium which suggests the bloom upon the peach is not proper to be employed for rendering " grand," or even genre subjects, or for the covering of large surfaces of canvas. It is inappropriate to the painting of classic compositions, although in point of fact it has been so used, not without success. It is best adapted to the rendering of still life, of landscape and of portraiture. But in these cases it is not advisable to aim at that solidity which is the virtue of oil-painting, if only because oil can bring about a better result. The real reason is that, in securing solidity, pastel tends to forfeit that lightness and grace which constitute its special charm and merit. Strength belongs to oil, tenderness and subtlety to pastel, together with freshness and elegance.

The pre-eminent technical advantage, in addition to those already mentioned, is the permanence of the tones. In watercolours there is an admixture of gum and glycerin which may attract moisture from the air; and, besides, the pigment is used in very thin washes. In oil-painting not only does the oil darken with age but sometimes draws oxygen from a pigment and changes its hue. In pastel the colour is put on without any moist admixture, and can be laid on thick. Moreover, the permanence may arise from the method of manufacture. In a very rare work. The Excellency of the Pen and Pencil (1668), a chapter on " how to make pastils" [sic] " of several colours, for drawing figure, landskip, architecture, &c., on blew paper," describes the manner of grinding up the pigments with grease. This used to be the secret of pastel—that every grain of colour was separately and securely locked up in grease, and so was secured from any chemical change that might have come about through contact of the colours with one another or with the atmosphere. With pastel nothing of the kind could occur; and the works of Rosalba Carriera in Italy, of Quentin Latour, Peronneau, Watteau, St Jean, Paul Hoin and Chardin in France, and of Russell and Cotes in England—to name no others—testify to the permanency of the colours. Some manufacturers nowadays employ gum as the binding medium; others beeswax (which at one time was more frequently used than it is at present); others, again, a very small proportion of tallow, and sometimes a little soap. But this introduction of binding media is now adopted only in the case of certain colours. Whether the point or edge of the stick be used (as in pastel drawing), or the side of it, helped with the tips of the fingers (as in pastel painting), the result is equally permanent; and if, when the work is done, it be struck two or three times, and then touched up by hand-crayons, no dropping of colour from the paper need ever occur. The drawing is made on a grained paper that will hold the chalk, or on a specially manufactured toothed cloth. The French paper known as gras gris bleuté is employed by certain of the leading pastellists. The crisp touches of the pastel can be placed side by side, or the " vibrations " which the artist seeks may be obtained by glazes and superposed tones. It should here be mentioned that about the year 1900 M. Jean-François Raffaelli produced in Paris sticks of oil colours which he claimed would in a great measure replace painting with the brush. Although the system was widely tried and many good pictures painted in this method, it was found that the colours became dull, and such vogue as these " solid paints " enjoyed for a time has to a very great extent disappeared.

The art of pastel, as M. Roger Ballu expressed it, " was slumbering a little," until in 1870 the Société des Pastellistes was founded in France and met with ready appreciation. With many artists it was a matter of " coloured chalks," as, for example, with Millet, Lhermitte and Degas in France, and with Whistler in England. With the majority the full possibilities were seized, and a great number of artists abroad then practised the art for the sake of colour, among whom may be mentioned Adrien Moreau, A. Besnard, Émile Lévy, Machard, Pointelin, Georges Picard, de Nittis, Iwill, René Billotte, Jozan, Nozel, Raffäelli, Brochard (mainly upon vellum) and Lévy-Dhurmer in France; in Belgium, Emile Wauters (who has produced a great series of life-sized portraits of both men and women of amazing strength, vitality and completeness) and Fernand Khnopff; in Italy, C.Laurenti. P.Fragiacomo and Giovanni Segantini; in Holland, Josselin de Jong; in Germany, F. von Lenbach, Max Liebermann and Franz Stück; and in Norway, Fritz Thaulow.

In England the revival of pastel dates from 1880, when the first exhibition of the Pastel Society was held in the Grosvenor Gallery. The exhibition was a succès d'estime, but after a while the society languished until, in 1899, it was reconstituted, and obtained the adhesion of many of the most distinguished artists practising in the country, as well as of a score of eminent foreign painters. In that year, and since, it has held exhibitions of a high order; and intelligent public appreciation has been directed to the work of the most noteworthy contributors. Among these are E. A. Abbey, R.A.; M'Lure Hamilton, J. M. Swan, R.A.; J. Lorimer, R.S.A.; A. Peppercorn, R. Anning Bell, J. J. Shannon, R.A.; Sir James Guthrie, P.R.S.A.; H. Brabazon, Walter Crane, Melton Fisher, Edward Stott, A.R.A.; S. J. Solomon, R.A.; and W. Rothenstein.

See Karl Robert [Georges Meusnier], Le Pastel (Laurens, Paris, 1890); J. L. Sprinck, A Guide to Pastel Painting (Rowney, London); Henry Murray, The Art of Painting and Drawing in Colored Crayons (Winsor & Newton, London). Among early works are: John Russell, R.A., Elements of Painting with Crayons (1776); M.P.R. de C.C., Traité de la peinture aii pastel avec les moyens de prévenir l'alteration des couleurs (Paris, 1788); Rosalba Carriera, Diario degli anni 1720 e 1721 scritto di propria mano in Parigia, &c. (Giovanni Vianelli, Venice, 1793, 4to); Girolamo Zanetti, Elogio di Rosalba Carriera, pittrice (Venice, 1818, 8vo). See also Henri Lapauze, Les Pastels de M. Quentin de La Tour à St Quentin, preface by Gustave Larroumet (Paris); George C. Williamson, John Russell, R.A. (London, 1894).  (M. H. S.)