Enfilade

Exhibition | Velvet Paintings: 18th-Century Pastels

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on June 26, 2015

Now on view at The Huntington:

Velvet Paintings: 18th-Century Pastels from The Huntington’s Art Collections
The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Gardens, San Marino, CA, 16 May — 7 November 2015

Curated by Melinda McCurdy

Rosalba Carriera, Girl with a Rabbit, ca. 1720–30, pastel on paper (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Gardens: Adele S. Browning Memorial Collection)

Rosalba Carriera, Girl with a Rabbit, ca. 1720–30, pastel on paper (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Gardens: Adele S. Browning Memorial Collection)

The art of pastel painting reached its greatest height in 18th-century Europe. Praised for its bright white luminosity and velvety surface and constrained in size by its delicacy and the technical limitations of its materials, pastel possessed a decorative quality that suited the smaller-scale rooms of rococo interiors. These properties also made it particularly useful in portraiture, where the powdery medium’s ability to diffuse light produced likenesses more convincing than those worked in oils. Despite their fragile nature, the minimal presence of oil binders and lack of surface varnish meant that pastels retained their freshness and vibrancy long after oil paintings darkened with age. This exhibition features nine 18th-century pastels from The Huntington’s holdings, which have not been on public view for nearly a decade. Still-sparkling works by masters of the medium such as Rosalba Carriera, Francis Cotes, and William Hoare, brilliantly demonstrate why the late 17th-century French art theorist Roger de Piles called pastel “the most commodious type of painting.”

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In a posting for Home Subjects (25 June 2015), the curator of the exhibition Melinda McCurdy considers the reasons why pastels were widely perceived in the eighteenth century as especially suitable for domestic interiors—and welcomes your comments.

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