Old Pastel Master: Francis Cotes

Francis Cotes Collage

Francis Cotes Collage
Francis Cotes Collage

Francis Cotes (1726 – 1770) was an English painter, one of the pioneers of English pastel painting, and a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768.
The son of an apothecary, Francis Cotes trained in the 1740s as a portraitist in pastels and oils. An early pastel portrait gained him recognition and even inspired a love poem, “Address to Celia’s picture.” By the 1760s, he had achieved wide-reaching success as the pre-eminent pastel painter in England. Cotes helped found the Society of Artists and became its director in 1765. Three years later he became a founding member of the Royal Academy. In his last decade, Cotes began to paint more in oil, a medium less labor intensive and more profitable than pastel. However, he remained renowned as a pastelist: John Russell wrote his famous 1772 treatise, The Elements of Painting with Crayon, as an explanation of Cotes’s pastel technique, and Cotes was referred to as “the Rosalba Carriera of England.” His inventive compositions, dramatic use of saturated color, bold handling of line, and informal naturalism contributed to Cotes’s fame. Tragically, his premature death at age forty-four cut short his career.
source: Getty Museum, LA

Elements of Painting with Crayons by John Russell

Here is the link on Google books to “Elements of Painting with Crayons” by John Russell from 1700s. It is an interesting booklet on 40 pages, especially when you consider when it was written. Do not expect fancy color paintings and be prepared to many spelling errors, most likely due to book digitizing software. Russell explains drawing basics, pastel application, approach to painting portraits and drapery. The last section covers materials and explains how to mix your own pastels.
Here are some excepts that might ignite your curiosity 🙂

“When the Student paints immediately from the life it will be most prudent to make a correct Drawing of the Outlines on another paper the size of the Picture he is going to paint which he may trace by the preceding method because erroneous strokes of the sketching Chalk will prevent the Crayons from adhering to the paper.”
“The Student will find the sitting posture with the box of Crayons in his lap the most convenient method for him to paint. The part of the Picture he is immediately painting should be rather below his face for if it is placed too high the arm will be fatigued.”
“Brilliant greens are produced with great difficulty. In Switzerland they have a method of making them far superior to ours. We usually take yellow Oker and after grinding it with spirits mix it with the powder of Prussian blue then temper it with a knife and lay the Crayons on the Chalk without rolling them.”

Old Pastel Master: John Russell

John Russell "The Sign Writer"

John Russell "The Sign Writer"
John Russell "The Sign Writer"

John Russell (1745 – 1806) was an English painter renowned for his portrait work in oils and pastels, and as a writer and teacher of painting techniques.
His extraordinary facility as a pastel painter brought him a fashionable clientele eager to have him execute their portraits. Russell was renowned for his ability to achieve masterful tonal effects by smudging broad areas. He then accented the painting by applying linear flourishes made with a hard-pointed pastels. Most of the hundreds of works he produced were portraits, although he sometimes depicted genre subjects such as children with animals. Russell’s achievements in the art of pastel were the result of his thorough understanding of its technique and materials. In 1780 he published The Elements of Painting in Crayon, one of a handful of known treatises on pastel written in the 1700s. At the time of its publication, it was considered a cornerstone for understanding pastel medium. Russell also experimented with pastel manufacturing, producing a recipe book for pastel making. In 1788 he was elected as a member of the Royal Academy and further distinguished by being appointed as the Painter for king George III.

Rosalba Carriera Pastel Portrait in Uffizi Gallery, Florence

During my recent visit to famous Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy, among the old masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raffaello, Tiziano, Botticelli, I found one pastel jewel – the Rosalba Carriera pastel portrait of “Felicita Sartori”. It is in a very good shape and the colors are still brilliant, unlike many other oil and tempera works in the museum. Next to that painting  one can find couple of oil paintings by the pastel masters that were already presented on this blog – Jean-Etienne Liotard and Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin.

Rosalba Carriera Portrait of Felicita Sartori
Rosalba Carriera "Portrait of Felicita Sartori"

Old Pastel Master: James Whistler

James Whistler Pastel works

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Whistler was an American-born, British-based artist. At age 21 he sailed to Europe after committing himself to become an artist. Among the others he met Edgar Degas in Paris whose friendship was very important to him as an artist. He emerged as an advocate of Aestheticism, movement that promoted the unity of art and design with credo “art for art’s sake”. Striving to make harmony between shape, color, light and line and finding a parallel between painting and music, Whistler titled many of his paintings “Symphony”, “Harmony”, and “Nocturne”. Emphasizing the primacy of tonal harmony he became one of the founder of Tonalism. Famous signature for his paintings was a stylized butterfly. The symbol was appropriate, for it combined both aspects of his personality—his art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, while his public persona was combative.
Whistler preferred to work outdoors but the unusually cold winter of 1880 made holding an etching needle or painting en plein aire with oils or watercolors impractical. Pastels, however, were an ideal medium. Whistler completed 90 pastels while in Venice, describing them in a letter to his dealer as being “totally new and of a brilliancy very different from the customary watercolor.”
In comparison to older and contemporary pastels, Whistler’s Venetian pastels were strikingly sketchy, with large areas of paper left blank. Criticized by a conservative contemporary critic as “vaguely incoherent,” the pastels are appealing to the modern eye. Whistler used color to indicate the magical effects of light on a Venice encased in winter. You can find collection of his Venice works in Whistler’s Venice book.

His most famous painting the iconic Whistler’s Mother, oil on canvas, made in 1871 is displayed in a frame of Whistler’s own design, and is now owned by the MusĂ©e d’Orsay in Paris. Upon this painting post stamp was made in memory and in honor of Mothers of America.


Wikipedia; Wetcanvas, The Pastel Journal; Traditional Fine Arts OrganizationOlgas’ Gallery


Taft Museum of Art, America; MusĂ©e d’Orsay, Paris; Tate Gallery London;  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;  Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC;  Terra Museum of American Art (United States)


Portrait of Mary Cassatt by Edgar Degas

Portrait of Mary Stevenson Cassatt by Edgar Degas

This is the portrait of Mary Cassatt made by Eduard Degas. Not much is known about Mary Cassatt’s relationship with Degas, as she burned all their correspondence before she died. However, it is generally assumed that the two were lovers, although nothing can be proved. What is certain is that the two painters had a close, sometimes turbulent, relationship over a period of forty years that ended with Degas’ death in 1917. Degas’ difficult nature often lead to periods of estrangement that could only be ended when mutual friends brought the two together again. It must have taken all Mary’s reserves of diplomacy to deal with Degas’ sometimes cruel nature.

Resource: Wetcanvas

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


MusĂ©e 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

Portrait of De La Tour by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau

Portrait of Quentin De La Tour by Jean-Baptiste Perroneau
Portrait of Quentin De La Tour by Jean-Baptiste Perroneau

This is the portrait made by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau that he exhibited in the Salon 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.