Enfilade

Exhibition | Fashionable Likeness: Pastel Portraits in Britain

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on November 6, 2016

Press release (21 October 2016) from The Getty:

Fashionable Likeness: Pastel Portraits in 18th-Century Britain
Getty Center, Los Angeles, 1 November 2016 — 7 May 2017

Curated by Julian Brooks and Ketty Gottardo with assistance from Alessandra Nardi

William Hoare, Portrait of Henry Hoare, 'The Magnificent', of Stourhead, ca. 1750–60, pastel on paper. Unframed: 61 × 45.7 cm (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013.47.1).

William Hoare, Portrait of Henry Hoare, ‘The Magnificent’, of Stourhead, ca. 1750–60, pastel on paper. Unframed: 61 × 45.7 cm (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013.47.1).

In eighteenth-century Britain, portraits were commissioned by an increasingly wide cross-section of society, including the newly rich, as a visible symbol of their wealth and cultural aspirations. Fashionable Likeness: Pastel Portraits in 18th–Century Britain explores the topic of portrait drawing through a number of works in the Getty Museum’s permanent collection and select loans.

“Eager to affirm their elevated social status, sitters in 18th-century Europe were frequently portrayed in the latest fashion, wearing opulent outfits topped with powdered wigs and elaborate hairstyles,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “With its unique texture and luminosity, pastel was the perfect medium to capture the sitters’ evanescent expressions and the symbols of their stature—the richness of their silk dresses and velvet coats. As well as its rich artistry, this exhibition also provides an insight into the carefully calibrated social structure of the day.”

“For artists and sitters, pastel painting offered practical advantages over oil, as it required fewer sittings and did not need to dry between sessions,” says Julian Brooks, co-curator of the installation. “In addition, ready-made pastel sticks were easily portable and cost less than oils.”

The first artist to become internationally renowned for pastel portraits was the Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera, whose work was much sought after by collectors across Europe. Praised for her talent at capturing a vivid likeness, Carriera employed a subtle technique of smoothing and blending hues that influenced a generation of British pastelists. Among those was John Russell, who trained with Francis Cotes and later authored Elements of Painting with Crayons (1772), one of the earliest English treatises on the pastel technique.

Daniel Gardner, Portrait of Mary Sturt of Crichel and Her Three Eldest Children, ca. 1777, pencil, pastel, and opaque watercolor on paper (Private collection).

Daniel Gardner, Portrait of Mary Sturt of Crichel and Her Three Eldest Children, ca. 1777, pencil, pastel, and opaque watercolor on paper (Private collection).

In a sumptuous and vibrant family portrait by Daniel Gardner, Portrait of Mary Sturt of Crichel and Her Three Eldest Children (about 1777), Gardner perfectly illustrates English high society’s taste for fashionable costumes. Mary Sturt’s son, Humphry, wears a ruffled necktie and double-breasted striped waistcoat with large pointed lapels. His matching pair of breeches fastened at the knee feature a stylish rosette instead of the usual buckle, details only made possible with the use of pastels. “This portrait is a magnificent example of Gardner’s very original technique,” says Ketty Gottardo, co-curator of the installation. “Unusual for a pastelist, he mixed pastel powder with alcohol and applied it with a brush to paint faster, only rendering the faces in dry pastel.”

Fashionable Likeness: Pastel Portraits in 18th–Century Britain is curated by Julian Brooks, senior curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Ketty Gottardo, former associate curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum now at The Courtauld Gallery in London. They were assisted by former graduate intern Alessandra Nardi.

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