William Degouve de Nuncques
Intérieur de forêt, 1894
Pastel on paper
28 × 58 cm
Musée de l’École de Nancy, Nancy (inv. L02)
© Nancy, musée de l’Ecole de Nancy. Photo Studio Image
Touch of color is an unprecedented opportunity to enjoy a collection of works which rarely go on tour and are never exhibited together because of their extreme fragility.
Touch of color: the revival of the pastel is taking a fresh look at international modernity through this creative practice, which reasserts its specific character from the second half of the 19th century onwards, when it plays an important role in artistic innovation. Available until 5 January 2020 at our Fundación MAPFRE Casa Garriga Nogués Exhibition Hall.
Fundación MAPFRE has today, the 2nd of October, unveiled the Touch of color: the revival of the pastel exhibition in Barcelona, which examines the history of the resurgence of this technique from the 1830s onwards, when the term «pastelist» first appears, until its developments in the 20th century.
The exhibition, curated by Philippe Saunier, analyses the pastel’s place in comparison with oil painting, as well as the reasons why so many artists from the 19th and 20th century turn to this medium and reclaim its importance. For Saunier “with this exhibition we wanted to relate a part of the history of art which is not often addressed and which had a marked effect on the creative output of artists for such a long time: the hierarchy of techniques”.
Organized into ten chronological sections, the exhibition, produced by Fundación MAPFRE, demonstrates the pastel’s main episodes and most prominent figures, namely those who converted the pastel into an art form in its own right.
Throughout history, the pastel was considered to be a technique halfway between drawing and painting and it was not until the 19th century that this art form slowly gained its independence from painting and reached the height of its fame. For this reason, artists such as Jean Hélion and Jules Chéret viewed its golden age with nostalgia, dated from the 18th century, as can be seen in Autoportrait [Self-portrait], 1980, by Hélion or in La Sérénade [The serenade], 1912 by Chéret in the first section of the exhibition.
The pastel technique was traditionally associated with female artists. On finding themselves pushed out of academic circles they therefore opted for this user-friendly and inexpensive medium, in order to forge an alternative path to the fine arts, previously reserved for men. The exhibition features works from some of these women, such as Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Louise Abbéma and Louise-Catherine Breslau.
Moving through the exhibition, one can observe how the impressionists discovered that pastels were well suited to their work out in the open and to capturing fleeting moments. The pastels of Edgar Degas represent an essential chapter in the history of modern art: spontaneity and unfettered color (characteristics inherent to the technique) take center stage in his nudes, portraits and landscapes.
Odilon Redon is the most well-known pastelist from the turn of the century, a key figure in the evolution of symbolist and avant-garde aesthetics. Following on from the example of his dreamlike and enigmatic atmospheres and from the common core of the symbolist aesthetic, multiple artists from the 20th century – from Joseph Stella or Theo van Doesburg to Joan Miró, María Blanchard and Hans Hartung– reclaim the pastel in freeing and open-minded ways. Personnage by Miró and T1963-K9 by Hartung, which bring the exhibition to a close, are a clear example of this.
The exhibition’s unveiling was attended by Philippe Saunier, the exhibit curator and Nadia Arroyo, director of culture at Fundación MAPFRE, who highlighted that “their inherent fragility, the delicateness with which we conserve them and the difficulty of handling this technique makes this exhibition a unique occasion in which to view these works. These pieces are not often on display, are rarely loaned and once they are returned to their original locations should be stored in the dark for a number of years”.
She also pointed out that pastel exhibitions are usually presented by a museum in order to display their own collections with this being a rare occasion in which we have brought together pieces from more than 65 lenders for the general public to view.