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History of pastel retraced in museum’s new exhibition

“The Touch of Color: Pastels at the National Gallery” reflects on the influence of pastel in art from the Renaissance to the present day.

The exhibition will feature more than 70 artworks drawn entirely from the museum’s permanent collection, including many pieces that have never been seen before.

"Study of Flesh Color and Gold"
William Merritt Chase, “Study of Flesh Color and Gold” (1888) for the exhibition “The Touch of Color: Pastels at the National Gallery”. Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington via AFP Relaxnews

Through the ages, artists have adopted different techniques and approaches to pastel. They range from the rich illusion pastel “paintings” of the 18th century to the colorful abstractions of the 20th century.

The presentation will open with a section dedicated to the origins of pastel during the Renaissance, examining the practice of old masters Federico Barocci and Jacopo Bassano. Both artists used pastel and colored chalk in their preparatory sketches to plan the distribution of light and color in their oil paintings.

It will also highlight the technical mastery of 18th-century portraitists such as Rosalba Carriera and Maurice-Quentin de la Tour, who found pastel ideal for depicting the textures of human skin and fabrics.

Although pastel fell out of favor early in the 19th century, the exhibition will feature a selection of drawings and paintings that sparked an international revival of the medium.

Among them are Claude Monet’s 1901 canvas “Waterloo Bridge” and Edouart Manet’s 1882 portrait “Madame Michel-Lévy”.

Artists Mary Cassatt, Camille Pissarro and Paul Gauguin are also all represented in this section of the presentation.

The retrospective ends on a collection of artworks by 20th-century artists who experimented with pastel before turning to other media. It includes pieces by Käthe Kollwitz, Henri Matisse, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.

“The Gallery’s pastel collection is remarkably deep, with nearly every major period in the medium’s long, full history represented. The strength of the collection gives us a rare opportunity to present an exhibition of this scope and significance,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art, in a statement.

“The Touch of Color: Pastels at the National Gallery” will run from Sept. 29 through Jan. 26, 2020, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, United States. HM/RGA


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