Pastel art in history

A pastel is an art medium which has a pure pigment and a binder of neutral hue and low saturation. The pastel artwork is the brightest among all media because of maximum content of pigment.

Let us now look at some history of pastel art.  Pastel was introduced by Leonardo da Vinci who learned it from Jean Pereral from Milan in 1499.


One of his drawings done in red pastel.

Leonardo da Vinci himself did not paint much in pastel as he took his project of Monalisa in 1503.

The first artist to specialize in pastel art was a Frenchman named Joseph Vivien. He made his reputation by his portraits in pastels, to which he gave a sparkle and immediacy hitherto unreached in that medium.


This is an artwork of Charles Albert of Bavaria from 1717 done entirely from pastel.

In the 18 th century the pastel art picked up momentum particularly in France and especially for portrait paintings.

Pastel then became a important medium and for some it became primary.

Artists such as  Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Maurice Quentin de La Tour, Rosalba Carriera, Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin and Jean Liotard, who was famous for his great versitality, made extensive use of pastel.


Madame de Sorquainville, 1749 by  Jean-Baptiste Perronneau


Self portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour 1751


Self portrait by Rosalba Carriera 1715


Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin self portrait 1771


Lady Tyrell, Jean Liotard, 1746


Mary Charlotte Boissier, Jean Liotard 1746


Maurice De Saxe, Jean Liotard 1748

If you look closely you will see a unique smooth velvety texture, this is a property exclusively of pastels.

This was in France where number of pastel artists used pastel extensively. But the art of pastel spread to all over the world as well. Outstanding artist was John Russell from England


The face of the moon, John Russell 1793

In the trans atlantic, in America, John Copley was an occasional pastel painter.

Just before the French revolution, the pastel art became unpopular and also shortly after it. But by the mid 19 th century pastel art made a comeback and artists such as Eugene Delacroix and Jean Francois Millet made significant use of pastel.


Christ, 1853, Eugene Delacroix


Lion, 1850s, Eugene Delacroix


Peasent children at goose pond, Jean Francois Millet

The iconic Claude Monet also produced large body of work in pastels in the late 19 th century



Two of his many pastels

Then one of the leading practitioner of pastel was Edouard Manet. He also painted pastel on canvas, a unconventional ground for this medium.


Madame Michel – Levy, 1882, Edouard Manet

Edgar Degas produced a lot of pastel artworks in expressionist vigor.


Dancer with bouquet of flowers, Edgar Degas, 1878


Singer with the glove, Edgar Degas, 1878

Mary Cassatt, an American living in France, learned pastel techniques from Degas and did a good body of work in pastels.


Sleepy baby, 1910, Mary Cassatt

Across the Atlantic ,The society of painters in pastels was formed in America in 1885.

The pastellists organised their first exhibition in 1910 in New York.

The pastel was also used to create expressionist works due to the immediacy of them and were used by Edvard Munch to create the iconic Scream painting in 1893.


Which was sold at a auction for a gigantic pile of money!


Later many modernists have used pastels to create their art because of the immediacy of them.

So here concludes the short history of pastels.