Exhibition: Pastel Portraits at the Met

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 4, 2011

Press release from the Met:

Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 17 May — 14 August 2011

Curated by Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelley

In the 18th century, pastel portraiture was so popular in Europe that by 1750 almost 2,500 artists and amateurs were working in pastel in Paris alone. Across Europe works were commissioned by royalty and courtiers, as well as the wealthy middle classes. Although pastel is a drawing material, 18th-century portraits are often highly finished, relatively large, brightly colored, elaborately framed, and hung in the same fashion as oil paintings. The powdery pastel crayons and slightly roughened paper are particularly suited to capturing the evanescent effects of expression that characterize the most life-like portraits. Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe will feature 40 pastel portraits from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and other museums, and from private collections in New York, Princeton, and New Haven. At the core of the exhibition will be a group of French works, and the English, German, Italian, and Swiss schools will also represented.

Pastels are susceptible to fading if overexposed to light, and they are vulnerable to damage from excessive vibration, which can loosen the powder. As a practical consequence, they can only be shown three months of the year, rarely travel, and are not often exhibited in museums. Pastel Portraits will give visitors the rare opportunity to view these exquisite works in a museum exhibition, which will include generous loans from the Princeton University Art Museum, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Pierpont Morgan Library, New-York Historical Society, and Frick Collection, as well as several private collections.

Pastel Portraits will feature a number of fine works by Maurice Quentin de La Tour and Jean Baptiste Perronneau, two of the best known and outstanding artists who were working with this medium in mid-18th–century Paris. Highlights of the exhibition will include La Tour’s Jacques Dumont le Romain (1701-1781) Playing the Guitar; Perronneau’s Olivier Journu; Adélaïde Labille-Guiard’s portrait of the sister of Louis XVI, Madame Elisabeth de France (1764-1794), recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum; Jean Étienne Liotard’s Young Woman in Turkish Costume with a Tambourine; John Russell’s John Collins of Devizes; and the beautiful Young Woman with Pearl Earrings by Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera, who became a favorite of Grand Tourists visiting Italy. The popularity and appeal of pastel in the 18th century reached as far as Boston, where John Singleton Copley, who was self-taught and had never seen an important European work in the medium, created exceptional portraits. Two of Copley’s portraits, also recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, will be on view in the exhibition.

Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelley, Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe, exhibition catalogue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 9780300169812, 56 pages, $14.95.