The Musée d’Orsay exhibits this spring 2023 some hundred pastels from its collection, which contains around 500 works in all. The last exhibition on this scale devoted to the Museum’s pastels (Le Mystère et l’éclat / Mystery and Brilliance) was held as long ago as 2009. This new presentation will enable visitors to (re)discover these highlights from a collection that features works by Millet, Degas, Manet, Cassatt, Redon, Lévy-Dhurmer and many others.
La Femme à la médaille, en 1896
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
The 18th century is regarded as the golden age of pastel. A medium second to none when it comes to rendering the effects of texture and velvety complexions, use of pastel was often restricted to portraiture. Although it fell out of fashion at the time of the French Revolution, pastel enjoyed a revival between the second half of the 19th and early 20thcentury. The range of available pastels was considerably broadened in terms of shades and textures alike, so opening the door to all types of experiments and practices. The Musée d’Orsay’s collection bears ample witness to this revival.
Neither drawing nor painting, pastel is a unique art providing an immediate relationship with the material Composed of pure pigments, it rests in suspension on the paper’s or canvas’ grain. The resulting vibration is what creates its beauty, as well as its fragility. It is a multifaceted medium that encompasses all possible modulations, from misty blurring to the most vigorous crosshatching. Pastel merges line and color. It is significant that an artist of Degas’ stature used it almost exclusively from 1888-90 onwards, his choice of the medium marking the culmination of his tireless research on drawing and color.
The exhibition will be organized around eight major themes emphasizing the revival of pastel that began in the second half of the 19thcentury. From the portrait, following on from the 18th century, to symbolist artists’ chimeras by way of landscape and social change, the itinerary will include a wide range of artists and spotlights works by Millet, Degas, Lévy-Dhurmer, Redon, Mary Cassatt and many other pastellists.
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