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 Musée 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; Musée 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; 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;

Is this Cezanne done in pastel?

I have found this painting by Paul Cezanne for which Wikipedia claims to be in pastel. I’m not sure about it and maybe someone knowledgeable can help with some information. The painting hangs in The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Please click on it to enlarge it and tell what you think in comment area and/or in the poll.

Paul Cézanne's Son

Is this Cezanne done in pastels?

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We have reached post #100!

Thanks to you, our readers who gave support by acknowledging and appreciating our work, this blog has succeeded to reach #100 post today.

What follows is a brief summary of last 3,5 months:

  • posted 6 posts related to Old Pastel Masters
  • presented 8 great pastel artists as  “Featured Artists”
  • used opportunity to present 12 very useful pastel demos
  • mentioned close to 30 competitions and challenges (held or to come)
  • collected 15 video clips
  • averaged 5,76 post per week after going public on January 1st, 2010
  • more than 350 Facebook  fans, almost 60 Google Friend Connect  followers and over 130 daily RSS feeds
  • linked to over 100 pastel artists.

The numbers above are here to talk a little, the blog itself says much more, but the best of all is that we have learned so much and established contact with many great artists which we admire and who give us the push to work more. This is just one stop to turn back and see how much we did and to say: “It’s worth it and there is more to come… :-)”

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The Pastel 100: Animal and Wildlife 2010

Top pastel artists in the category Animal & Wildlife at The Pastel Journal 11th annual Pastel 100 Competition. Check the left column for the artworks that I got permission from the artists to be published.
1. Julie Greig
2. Becky Johnson
3. Susan Lampinen (no email)
4. Terry Donahue
5. Robert K. Semans
Honorable mention: Elizabeth Ganji, Dale Martin, Joe MacKechnie, Sharon Bamber, Marcia Holmes, Gary Blackwell, Nancy A. Bozeman, Janet Mozley, Patsy Lindamood, Sandy Byers, Catherine Lidden, Dennis Linn, Jack Hetterich, Kari Tirrell.

See also the Portrait and Figure winners.

Mike Mahon’s Pastel Demo

by Mike Mahon

Mike Mahon paints the colors and people of Texas, Northern New Mexico, and Mexico. His landscapes, portraits, and slice-of-life vignettes depict a taste for the unusual scenes, expressions, and moments. His impressionistic style adds depth and a surprising realism of light and shadow to his paintings. Mike’s paintings have earned numerous awards and recognitions. He was one of the featured artists in the 2004 edition of 100 Ways to Paint People and Figures, published by International Artist Magazine and here you can see the page with Mike’s painting and the explanation of the process he used. He is a Signature member of the the Pastel Society of America and Lone Star Pastel Society.
On his website Mike is offering a demo of a landscape painting.

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”.

Patrick Martin – Still Life Demo

Patrick Martin

French artist Partick Martin was born in 1951 in Pavillons-sous-Bois near Paris. He received multidisciplinary education at the “Ecole Superieure des Arts Appliques et des Metiers d’Arts”. Today he is a professional pastel artist and teacher. He is also a master member of the Societe des Pastellistes de France. On his bi-lingual website Patrick is providing very good step by step demonstrations.

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