Cleveland Museum of Art showcases well-loved pastels

By Carrie Wise

Pastels are in the spotlight at the Cleveland Museum of Art with its “Pure Color” exhibit.

As the museum culminates its 100th birthday, chief curator Heather Lemonedes said she wanted to share some beloved pastel drawings.

“I wanted to offer the beauty and show something you don’t see often,” Lemonedes said.

Pastels are fragile, sensitive to light and cannot be on display all of the time.

“Pure Color” includes pieces by Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Mary Cassat, as well as less familiar works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which was a second golden age for pastels. But the medium dates back much earlier to the Renaissance.

“It was really in the eighteenth century when pastels had their first golden age,” she said. “It really started to be within the eighteenth century that there was a considerable market out there [for pastels].”

Innovations in glass, which protects the drawings from smearing, also helped make pastels more viable as an art form. Pastel also became a popular alternative to oil painting for portraits, particularly in France.

But, like most things, pastel fell out of fashion, especially as pastel portraits became associated with the royal government.

“As the eighteenth century waned… it became more old fashioned, dusty and objected to,” Lemonedes said.

Nearly 100 years later, artists found new ways to use pastel. The medium allowed more spontaneity than oil painting and it was also used to capture modern life.

“Oil painting you have to do over a period of time. You have to let layers dry before you start painting,” she said. “But pastel can be made more quickly because there isn’t that aspect of drying.”

The “Pure Color” exhibit, which is on display through March 19, includes familiar works by Impressionists as well as more modern and abstract pieces.

The bright colors in many of the works struck museum visitor Judy Duchan of Buffalo, New York.

“We have this notion of pastel as being subdued,” she said. “This is definitely not what you get from this show.”

 

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