Old Pastel Master: Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas Pastel works

Hilaire-Germain- Edgar Degas (1834 –1917)
I’m fully aware that every pastelist has heard about Edgar Degas, but the series about Old Pastel Masters wouldn’t be complete without the King of Pastels.

Degas is a french artist, acknowledged as the master of drawing the human figure in motion. He worked in many mediums, preferring pastel to all others. A superb draughtsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance but also well known for his paintings, drawings, and bronzes of both ballerinas and of race horse.

The art of Degas reflects a concern for the psychology of movement and expression and the harmony of line and continuity of contour. These characteristics set Degas apart from the other impressionist painters, although he took part in all but one of the 8 impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886. Nevertheless Degas was the strongest promoter of the Impressionist group. It’s well known that he objected the name and considered himself and his compatriots “realists,” which pointed to their interest in drawing inspiration from their own environments and experiences. He was outspoken about the need for artists to join together and establish a place for themselves as proponents of a new, contemporary artistic sensibility. He organized, what is now known as, the first Impressionist exhibition and planned many of the subsequent shows but the term “impressionist” was adopted later, at the time of the third Impressionist exhibition.
As a young man, he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and copied works of art at the Louvre. He admired the old masters, particularly Renaissance painters, and the more contemporary works of Eugéne Delacroix (1798-1863) and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).

By the later 1870s Degas had mastered not only the traditional medium of oil on canvas, but pastel as well. Pastels which he applied in complex layers and textures, enabled him more easily to reconcile his facility for line with a growing interest in expressive color. Degas stated that pastels were more suitable for his delicate studies, however they also had several other advantages for him – they were much quicker to work with than paint and so were of major assistance in his experimental works. Besides traditional pastels he also used powdered pastel which, when mixed with water, could be applied with a brush. The career of Edgar Degas was a long one – about 60 years out of the 83 which he lived. He never married but his relationship with Mary Cassatt was unique and interpreted as intimate.

On the youtube you can find a lot of his works and I’m pointing to dancers which like the best.


Wikipedia; BrainyQuotesEdgar Degas – The complete works; web-museum; National Gallery of Australia; biography.com; Olga’s gallery; Metropolitan Art Museum; MoodBook;


Musée d’Orsay, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC;  The Hermitage, St. Petersburg;

Old Pastel Master: Mary Stevenson Cassatt

Mary Stevenson Cassatt pastel work

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844– 1926) was an American painter and printmaker best known for her portraits of children and her groupings of mothers and their children. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The faculty at the Academy encouraged students to study abroad. In 1865 Cassatt approached her parents with the idea of studying in Paris. Initialy they objected the idea but afterwards relented and allowed her to go. She lived much of her adult life in France. Her first exposure to French artists Ingres, Delacroix, Degas, Pissarro, Corot, and Courbet was likely at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855. Later she exhibited among them.

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt shared a very unique and intimate relationship. Both rejecting the conservative artistic directions, Cassatt’ and Degas’ restless intelligence drew them together. They inspired and facilitated each others’ artistic careers. Cassatt even proclaims “the first sight of Degas’ pictures was the turning point in my artistic life”. In fact, it was the sight of Degas’ pastel work that turned Cassatt onto pastel for the first time. Supporting Degas’s work Cassatt bought one of his pastels and brought it back to home thus making it the first Impressionist artwork to come to America. The way in which they influenced each other is apparent through their choice of subjects and the materials and techniques they used. Initially Cassatt copied Degas pastel work, but soon Degas was duplicating her innovative techniques of combining pastel, gouache and metallic paint on paper mounted on canvas, as seen in Cassatt’s “At the Theater” (1879).

She was an unconventional woman in her time, not marrying or having any children of her own, but preferring to travel and live a bohemian life alone in Europe. As a woman she succeeded in the primarily male dominated world of art and became a member of the Impressionist circle. She was the only American to have her work shown at the independent exhibitions of the Impressionists.

Interesting clip of her work you can find on youtube.

After you read all about Mary you can have fun taking the art quiz.


Art Institute of Chicago, Wikipedia, WetCanvas, Lycos, Pricenton, National Art Galery, Olga’s gallery


Metropolitan Art Museum, New York

Museum of Fine Art, Boston

Old Pastel Master: Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699 -1779) was a French painter, considered as the master of still life. He was also well known for domestic scenes remarkable for their intimate realism and tranquil atmosphere and the luminous quality of their paint.
During his lifetime, Chardin was recognized as one of the great painters of his day and, rightfully, appreciation for his work has never waned. Rejecting the styles and subjects of his contemporaries, Chardin elevated the still life to a noble art form and achieved a place for himself as a quiet revolutionary in the pantheon of art history.
He turned to pastels in later life when his eyesight began to fail. His pastel works had no equal in freshness and spontaneity but they were not widely admired in Chardin’s own time. Those pastels, most of which are in the Louvre Museum, are highly regarded now.
The critic Denis Diderot wrote in 1763 that a still life by Chardin “is nature itself; the objects free themselves from the canvas and are deceptively true to life.” Chardin has continued to be greatly admired, inspiring many 19th-century artists, including Manet and Cézanne. Novelist Marcel Proust wrote, “We have learned from Chardin that a pear is as living as a woman, that an ordinary piece of pottery is as beautiful as a precious stone.”
Nice collection of his works you can find on youtube, but also in web art galleries and Olga’s gallery.
If you speak French, an interesting review of his work is on youtube.

Old Pastel Master: Jean-Baptiste Perronneau

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau pastel works

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (1715-1783) was a French painter who specialized in portraits executed in pastels.
Perronneau began his career as an engraver, apparently studying with Laurent Cars, whose portrait he drew, and working for the entrepreneurial printseller Gabriel Huquier, making his first portraits in oils, and especially in pastels, in the 1740s. His career was much in the shadow of the master of the French pastel portrait, Maurice Quentin de La Tour. This led him to seek a clientele outside Paris, especially it seems in Orléans, but also in Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon and in Turin, Rome and Amsterdam. Less popular with the high aristocracy than La Tour, he painted mostly the senior Officials, and the upper bourgeoisie, engineers, doctors and clergy. On the other hand he seems to have been particularly favoured and respected by his own colleagues.
In the Salon of 1750, Perronneau exhibited his pastel portrait of  Maurice-Quentin de la Tour, but found to his dismay that La Tour was exhibiting his own self portrait, perhaps a malicious confrontation to demonstrate his superiority in pastel technique.
Perronneau was born in Paris but died unknown in Amsterdam at age 68.

Old Pastel Master: Maurice Quentin de la Tour

Maurice Quentin de la Tour

Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788) was a French Rococo portraitist who worked primarily with pastels. Among his most famous subjects were Voltaire, Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour. He was the son of a musician who disapproved of his painting career. That’s why he has as teenager left home and went to Paris where he was thought to paint. He went to Rheims in 1724 and to England in 1725, returning to Paris to resume his studies around 1727. In Paris he also had learned about new medium “pastel” made so popular by a young Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera. After returning to Paris, he adopted pastel as the sole medium of his portraits.
In 1737 La Tour exhibited the first of a splendid series of 150 portraits that served as one of the glories of the Paris Salon for the next 37 years. In the age of 46 he was appointed portraitist to the King, which established his reputation among the royalty and upper middle class.

There is an interesting story about his character and attitude: While painting Madame de Pompadour (click on the link to hear interesting story about this painting) he ask not to be disturbed but: “A quarter of an hour had scarcely passed when the door of the apartment opened and the King entered. Lifting his cap, La Tour said to his model, “You promised, Madame, that your door should be closed to visitors.” Louis laughed good at both the costume and the rebuke of the artist, and begged him to proceed with his work. “It is impossible for me to obey your Majesty,” replied La Tour: “I will return when Madame is alone.” There-upon he walked into another room to dress himself, saying as he went, “I don’t like to be interrupted.”
Towards the end of his life, he founded an art school and became a philanthropist before begin confined to his home because of mental illness. He retired at the age of 80 to Saint-Quentin where now stands the Musee Antoine Lecuyer with it’s wonderful collection of close to 80 works by this master of pastel

There is an interesting interactive tour of his work on interactive pages of the Museum “Antoine Lecuyer”.

Old Pastel Master: Jean-Etienne Liotard

Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789) was born in Geneve, Switzerland, where he was trained as a miniature painter. In his twenties he sought his fortune in Paris, where he studied in a prominent painter’s studio. After rejection by the Académie Royale, he traveled to Italy, where he obtained numerous portrait commissions.
Liotard next embarked on a journey throughout the Mediterranean region and finally settled in Constantinople for four years. Intrigued by the native dress, he grew a long beard and acquired the habit of dressing as a Turk, earning himself the nickname of “the Turkish painter”. For the rest of his life, Liotard traveled throughout Europe painting portraits in pastels. In Rome 1735 he painted portraits of Pope Clement XII and several cardinals. He traveled to Vienna in 1743 to paint the portraits of Empress Maria Theresa and her family, visited England from 1753 to 1755 and painted portraits of the Princess of Wales and other notables.
His painting style intimately captured a tender and realistic representation of his subjects. Later settling in his birthplace of Geneva, he wrote “Treatise on the Art of Painting”, in which he claimed painting ought to be a mirror of nature. This strong belief is seen prominently in his portraits, but also in still-life works and landscapes he painted later in life.


Musées d’art et d’histoire, Geneva
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

Old Pastel Master: Rosalba Carriera

Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) was one of the most successful women artists of any era. The Venetian-born Rosalba Carriera spent most of her long life fulfilling commissions for distinguished patrons at courts across 18th-century Europe. Rosalba developed an innovative approach to the medium of pastel for which she is best known today. Carriera’s greatest patron was Augustus III of Poland, who sat for her in 1713 and eventually amassed a collection of more than 150 pastels by the artist, which are currently part of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie in Germany.
Rosalba Carriera is credited with having greatly popularized the medium of pastels in France during the early 1700s; and with introducing, perhaps even instructing, the renowned French pastel artist, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, to the use of pastels as a portrait medium. Tragically, perhaps as a result of years spent straining to paint miniature portraits, her eyesight failed her the last ten years of her life. She died in 1757 at the age of 81. Along with her long-time friend, Antoine Watteau, whom she also portrayed in pastels. The two of them were considered the leading French portrait artists of the Rococo era.

www resources:
Web Gallery of Art

Some museums and art galleries:

Dresden Gemäldegalerie
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

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