"Pastel does not at all refer to pale colors, as the word is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion terminology. The name Pastel comes from the French word "pastiche" because the pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste, with a small amount of gum binder, and then rolled into sticks. The infinite variety of colors in the Pastel palette range from soft and subtle to bold and brilliant."
~Pastel Society of America
Pastel is not colored chalk, which is a limestone substance. Pastel is pure pigment - the same pigment used in making all fine art paints. It is the most permanent of all media when applied to a stable ground and properly framed. There is no oil to cause darkening or cracking, nor other substance or medium to cause fading or blistering. Pastels painted more than 400 years old exist today, as dazzling and fresh as they were when they were first painted!
Historically, Pastel's invention is attributed to the German painter Johann Thiele in the 16th Century. A Venetian artist, Rosalba Carriera was the first to make consistent use of Pastel for her portraits of the French Court in the 17th century. Since then, a multitude of famous artists have used Pastel for finished work rather than just preliminary sketches. (LaTour, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Whistler, William Merritt Chase & others).
Edgar Degas was a prolific user of Pastel, and its champion. His protégé, Mary Cassatt, introduced the Impressionists and Pastels to her friends in the U.S. in the late 1800's. Since then, Pastels have been the medium of choice and experimentation by many renowned living artists who have enriched the art world with this beautiful medium. These include Aaron Shikler, Daniel Greene, Albert Handell, Burton Silverman, Harvey Dinnerstein and many others who began teaching in the 1970’s—sharing what they knew with the world, and influencing new generations of painters in Pastel.
Today, Pastels appear in museum and private collections, are featured in galleries and win major awards in competitive exhibitions. In the spring of 1983, Sotheby Parke Bernet sold at auction two Degas Pastels for more than $3,000,000 each! Both Pastels were painted about 1880.
Care of Pastel Paintings
As with any fine work of art or fine furniture, it is advised not to place a Pastel painting in direct sunlight. Under the glass, the heat of the sun can create humidity, which could cause moisture damage to develop. Whenever transported or not in a hanging position, a Pastel painting should always be face up.