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The pastel medium has a chequered history but found popularity after an array of fascinating artworks from the likes of Degas, Odilon Redon, Monet & more.
4 Mins

Buyer's Guide: Pastel art

Lewis Findley
Lewis Findley

Exploring Art: Pastel Art

Pastel art is a fascinating illustration of intensity and composition.

This medium has been explored by the likes of Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Jean-François Millet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and more!

One of the biggest advantages with the pastel medium rests in their ability to create dramatic artworks which steal the eye of the viewer.

In this guide, you'll learn about pastel artworks, their history, the different types of pastels, famous artworks and the key difference between a pastel painting and drawing!

Kicking off the guide is their history.

History of the pastel medium

The history of pastels goes as far back to the Renaissance.

They were created by mixing pure powdered pigments with a binder such as gum arabic, fish or animal glue.

Notable artists who used pastels were: Federico Barocci, Hans Holbein, Jacopo Bassano, Jean and François Clouet among others!

The medium reached its peak in the 18th century when an array of incredible artworks were created by the like of Degas, Monet and more.

Pastels are a versatile medium with different styles which yield unique results for the artists. Check out the different styles of pastels.

What are the different types of pastels?

There are different types of Pastels. Here are four of the most common types:

  • Hard pastels - the colour they achieve is not as powerful as soft pastels but they do not crumble as easily as them. 
  • Soft pastels - contains less binder than a hard pastel but create brighter artworks. However, they can crumble.
  • Pastel pencils - they are encased in wood and this enables greater control.
  • Oil pastels- they are made with a non-drying oil, they can make paint-like effects but the wax binder makes them incompatible with other pastel types.

In addition to these different styles of pastels, have you ever wondered what the difference is between a pastel painting and drawing?

A pastel painting and drawing. A painting is 100% covered by pastel but anything less is a drawing.

Famous Pastel Artworks

Now that you have an insight into the pastel medium, take a look at some of the medium's most famous artworks.

From Hassam to Degas, check out some of the most talked-about pastel artworks ever made.

Poppies, Isles of Shoals 03 (1891)

Image Via - Painter Legend

A vibrant painting from American pastelist, Childe Hassam.

Poppies, Isles of Shoals 03 is a wonderful culmination of bright colours and substance. Providing a fascinating view, Hassam takes us from dense nature to the sea, sky and rocks.

Creating a vibrant piece, the artist has been quite dynamic with his technique.

You can divide the painting into three parts. The dense nature is a strong green supported by colours such as red and yellow.

Another part is the sea which is a lively hue of blue and finally, the sky which is a mixture of purple and a pale blue. 

Watering Horses, Sunset (1866)

Untitled design - 2019-10-07T145258.884

Image Via - Ocean's Bridge

This striking piece by Jean-François Millet shows the someone watering three horses. 

With visibility low, it comes at a time where the sun is retreating and paving way for the night sky to take over. 

Creating the rippling effect of the water and matching it to the sun's reflection are some of the challenges the artist faced and they met them remarkably well.

What you have here is a well-drawn pastel work.

La Toilette (1888–1890)

Image Via - Artists Network

Degas is credited with transforming the pastel medium.

In this piece, he captures the subject with their back to him whilst combing their hair.

Degas used pastels to great effect her. You can see towards the bottom of the painting how abrasive the paper looks and this comes from adding multiple pastel layers. 

It's created this burnishing effect which gives it a raw effect.

William Merritt Chase: Self-Portrait (1883) 

William Merritt Chase created this famous self portrait in spectacular style.

Capturing facial features, clothing and the object he was wearing along with the background, it comes together to create a fascinating piece. 

The human face is made up of many facets that can prove difficult to reproduce.

What Chase did her was execute that well and even add some of his mannerisms which to create that realism.

Flower Clouds (1903)

Image Via - Artists Network

This fascinating piece by Odilon Redon showcases the fire and vibrance that you can have with the pastel medium.

Before we go further into the painting, it must be noted that this artwork was part of a breakaway from what Redon used to do which was mostly noir.

This explosion of colour, as if the sky itself is on fire, illustrates his transformation as an artists to wards more colour works/

The subjects in this painting are two women in the boat who look and witness a radiant sky full of colour and freedom.

A rich and powerful artwork from the French artist.

Final Words

The pastel medium is quite fascinating. It can be a fantastic way to add new stories to your home.

Despite its chequered history, it has a sense of freedom to it that will continue to lure artists who express their vision to the medium's strengths.

Artists like Degas, Redon and the others have helped to illustrate the boundaries of this medium and how it can create impactful artworks like Flowers Clouds or even a something life-like as we saw with the woman sitting down. 

What's your favourite pastel artwork/artist? Hit the comments and let us know!

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