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Pastel Drawings

Pastels have been a favored medium of artists since they were initially manufactured in the 15th century. The pastel is a stick consisting of pure pigment mixed with a binder such as gum arabic. Artists enjoy the diversity of vibrant colors offered by pastel and its versatility as a medium.

Pastels have been employed for centuries in a diverse range of styles and genres. Leonardo Da Vinci was introduced to the medium through the French artist Jean Perréal when he arrived in Venice in 1499 and subsequently developed a strong affinity for pastels. Pastels have been integral to numerous famous works from the still life's of Jean-Baptist-Siméon Chardin to the Impressionist art of Edouard Manet. American artists Mary Cassatt and James Abbott McNeil Whistler produced a significant number of works in pastel and played a vital role in popularizing pastel color drawings within the United States.

Esteemed contemporary artists including Francesco Clemente and R.B. Kitaj continue the tradition of pastel drawing, reinvigorating this timeless medium with new life in the current era.

Quick Facts

  • Pastel supports require a "tooth" for the pastel to adhere to, holding the pigment in place. This tooth can consist of laid paper with an imprinted texture or an abrasive support with a surface that incorporates marble dust or finely ground pumice
  • Pastel drawings can be prone to smearing or pigment losses and are thus often sprayed with a fixative to stabilize them
  • The word pastel is both a verb and an adjective. In its former sense, it means to create an artwork in pastel. In its latter, it refers to a color with a pale tone

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