Pastel portraiture flourished in 18th-century Europe owing to the medium's distinctive optical properties—its brilliant colors and warm glow. The powdery nature of pastel crayons allowed artists to bathe their sitters in flattering light. The dual nature of the paintings—realistic yet ephemeral—inspired in viewers a sense of wonder.
This exhibition draws from a small but important group of French, Italian, German, and British pastels in the Museum's collection.
Examining works by Rosalba Carriera, Charles Antoine Coypel, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and other leading portraitists, it explores the rising popularity of pastel in conjunction with artistic practices and technological advances of the day.