Pastel portraiture flourished in 18th-century Europe owing to the medium's distinctive optical properties—its brilliant colors and warm glow. The powdery nature of pastel crayons allowed artists to bathe their sitters in flattering light. The dual nature of the paintings—realistic yet ephemeral—inspired in viewers a sense of wonder.
This exhibition draws from a small but important group of French, Italian, German, and British pastels in the Museum's collection. Examining works by Rosalba Carriera, Charles Antoine Coypel, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and other leading portraitists, it explores the rising popularity of pastel in conjunction with artistic practices and technological advances of the day.
In this Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History essay, learn about the increasing popularity of pastel in the 18th century as the medium moved aesthetically closer to painting.
Rosalba Carriera (Italian, 1673–1757). Gustavus Hamilton (1710–1746), Second Viscount Boyne, in Masquerade Costume (detail), 1730–31. Pastel on paper, laid down on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, George Delacorte Fund Gift, in memory of George T. Delacorte Jr., and Gwynne Andrews, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and Marquand Funds, 2002