Soft pastel is one of the most beautiful artistic mediums with fabulous colours and velvet surface that reached to us from the Renaissance time. It is a pure pigment with a small amount of gum Arabic (binder). Due to its smudging, artists were always worried for their artworks safety and protected them by glass. The German painter and art theorist Anton Raphael Mengs compared pastel artworks with flowers and butterflies in the gardens of art. Many art specialists attempted to find a perfect way to fix pastel on paper surface in order to make life of pastel pictures longer. Unfortunately, all fixatives invented till now changed its original range of colours and ruined its natural creaminess and fluffiness.
Nevertheless, history proved that pastels, preserved in proper conditions, don’t change their appearance for centuries. Pastel brilliant colours do not fade or yellow, painting surface does not crack like it happens to artworks painted by other mediums.
Pastel history as a fine art medium starts at the end of the 15th century. One of the rarest examples of its usage that came to us is Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of Isabella d’Este (1495) where he had used yellow pastel next to black and red chalks on paper.
Leonardo da Vinci called his new technique colorire a secco (the dry colour method). According to the artist, this technique was introduced to him by the French poet and court painter Louis XII - Jean Perreal.
Another famous pastel painter was Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757). She was the reason of great pastel popularization in Europe in the 18th century.
Self-portrait holding a portrait of her sister. 1715. Pastel.
Approximately at the same time the famous French portraitist Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704 – 1788), was creating his magnificent Rococo painting primarily with pastel.
Self-portrait, 1751. Pastel on paper.
Through the art history, starting from the 19th century and to our time, almost all famous artists were using pastels to certain degree: some for complete painting, others for under painting or finishing.
By the end of the 19th century pastel societies begin their history. Pastel started to be used not only for portraiture, but also for landscape and still life painting.
In 1994, the International Association of Pastel Societies was founded by the American pastel painter Urania Christy Tarbet. By now, it includes over 70 pastel societies from different cities and countries.