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Introducing the Prolegomena to Pastels & Pastellists

27 August 2015

pastellists largeNo one reading this will be unaware of my Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, published in hard copy in 2006, or that it is available (and has been since 2008) online, at Not everyone seems to be aware about how much more material is available online than in the book (which is why the site is called Pastels & pastellists), both in terms of numbers of pastels listed or reproduced (nearly three times as many) and in terms of all the additional apparatus which you can put online but which cannot feasibly get into print. All these files are set out on the home page of the website.

But I’m aware that not everyone enjoys browsing websites. There’s something about riffling the pages of a book that the internet, tablets etc. haven’t been able to replicate. And it’s in the nature of reference books that one doesn’t sit down to read them in a linear fashion. So a great deal of the narrative which I’ve wanted to convey hasn’t always been picked up. (If there’s anything more annoying than having one’s material plagiarised without acknowledgement, it’s having it overlooked completely.)

So this week I’ve published, on the website (at – or just go to the tab on the left of the home page), a book which does I hope provide the momentum for anyone seeking to learn about pastel. It’s not a coffee-table book (to keep the file size under control, and as an incentive to readers to consult the artist articles directly, I’ve avoided reproducing pastels within the document), and it’s consciously termed “prolegomena” to avoid anyone thinking of it as a Janet-and-John introduction.

There is material covering every angle of eighteenth century pastels, from physical construction and conservation to the evolution of taste and prices – all themes that don’t fit easily into single artist articles (although the main part of the Dictionary and its various appendices provide the documentation and support for the book’s arguments). The book aims to answer the questions that used to (or in some cases still do) baffle me, such as

  • why did some pastellists also work in oil – and which sitters opted for pastel?
    why did pastel disappear from fashion with the French revolution, returning a century later, but vanishing just as abruptly?
    why does the word have such negative connotations?
    was the Académie de Saint-Luc just a virtual concept, or was there a building?
    how many pastellists were there?
    how can you physically safeguard your pastels for a few pence each?
    how were and are pastels displayed?

By putting the work online (at no charge) I hope as many people can see it as possible. It’s a first draft. Like all the other documents on my site I welcome observations and corrections – even of typos, of which no doubt many remain, but also of any omissions, misconceptions or disagreements you may have over the broad range of disciplines (from paper conservation to sociology) such a work must cover. If it ever goes to print it will be the better for them.


From → Art history

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