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Events, September 18, 2001 - January 13, 2002

Pastels by 18th - early 20th-century Western European artists from the Hermitage collection

The Hermitage's relatively small collection of pastels (some 150 items) is interesting and varied in composition. The exhibition opens with 18th-century works - splendid portraits and the heads of women and children of the kind that brought the Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) tremendous fame. Carriera is represented by works from various dates. Particularly interesting among them is her Four Seasons series. The influence of Carriera shaped the fascination with pastels of the Swedish artist Gustaf Lundberg (1695-1786) and of such a celebrated exponent of the technique as Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788). John Russell (1745-1806), one of the most splendid English painters, who was known as the Prince of Pastel, is represented by the virtuoso portraits of Mrs Janet Grizel Cuming and of a girl in a bonnet. The exhibition also includes romantic landscape compositions - rarely executed in pastels - by the Toulon seascape-painter Pierre Jacques Volaire (1729-1802).

Nineteenth-century artists, breaking with the aesthetics of the previous era, brought something new to the art of pastels. Smooth careful blurring with a stump gave way to purely graphic techniques revealing the original graphic essence of pastel. Painstaking finishing gave way to a deliberate sketch-like quality in, for example, the portraits of Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904) or Franz von Stuck (1863-1928). Interest in conveying the medium of light and air leads to a search for methods consonant with Impressionist painting. Such are the works of the Norwegian Frits Thaulow (1847-1906) and the German artist Max Liebermann (1847-1935), and the female portraits of Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).

A colossal role in the regeneration of the pastel was played by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) who is represented in the exhibition by depictions of women at their toilet and studies of dancers - the two themes most characteristic of his pastel work.

A special place in the display, alongside the gloomy Expressionist compositions of Georges Rouault (1871-1958) entitled Spring and Women (Prostitutes), is occupied by the pastel Absinthe created by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). The schematized image of a woman with its sharp, angular features is the prototype for the subsequent Absinthe Lover, now in the Hermitage.

The last large-scale exhibition of pastels was held in the State Hermitage thirty years ago. The selection of works for the present exhibition has been made in such a way as to not only present superb individual works, but also to give some sort of general picture of the Hermitage collection and of the technical and stylistic changes introduced into pastel painting by the general course of the history of art.

For the exhibition the State Hermitage Publishing House has produced a 128-page illustrated colour catalogue also entitled Pastels by 18th - early 20th-century Western European artists from the Hermitage collection. The author of the catalogue and exhibition organizer is A.S. Kantor-Gukovskaya, senior researcher in the State Hermitage's Department of Western European Art.

Event source:

(c) 2000