Pastels are unique at Musée d’Orsay

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Odilon Redon, Young girl with a blue bonnet, early 1890’s

Pastels are this rare kind of paintings which can disappear if not well transported, for the pigments which constitute the drawing sticks are extraordinarily fragile and sensitive to light. While there were some pastellists in the 18 th century such as Maurice Quentin de la Tour or the Swiss Jean Etienne Liotard the “resurrection” (as Charles Bazin called it in 1849) of pastel takes place in the XIX th century. New synthetic pigments and a much wider range of colors enable the artists to develop landscapes and wider scenes than just portraits. In 1885, the Société des pastellistes français is founded in Paris after New York in 1883. And Jean François Millet is one of the precursors with Odilon Redon, Edouard Vuillard and Lucien Lévy Dhurmer.  Musée d’Orsay has brought out ninety five of their five hundred pastels and is showing a new acquisition, “Procession at dusk” by André Devambez.

Charles Milcendeau, Bretonne in front of the Pont l’Abbé Church, 1897

While Edouard Manet uses pastel for portraits on canvases prepared for oil painting, Paul Gauguin will use it on beige paper. Maurice Denis also uses paper for his unusual “Nude of seated woman from the back”. And so does Gustave Caillebotte for his spectacular “The Swimmer”, a bright blue boy dressed in a striped bathing suit ready to dive into the Yerres river in front of a stern lady. I think this is my favorite in the show which includes a whole (purple) room of “Baigneuses” by Degas, a room of darker Lévy Dhurmer and one of Odilon Redon’s. Christophe Leribault, the president of the museum, who was just back from Maastricht where he acquired two paintings and a piece of furniture, was in very good form, and mentioned that the decors were in part a re-use from the Rosa Bonheur exhibition. Now that Catherine Middleton, Princess of Wales officially wears her formal dresses more than once, it is the fashion to use decors at Musée d’Orsay more than once. Good for them.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Swimmer, 1877

There is a very pretty room devoted to the sea and Brittany with Pierre Prins‘ “Breton sky in Pouldu”,  a study of light and the rays of sun in the morning fog and Charles Milcendeau‘s “Bretonne in Pont l’Abbé”, a ravishing little town near Quimper. “Two women in a wood” by Edouard Vuillard is a subtle and poetic evocation of ladies’ friendship. A dark “Parsifal” by Redon hangs next to “The Shell” which I love for its suggestive look.

Odilon Redon, “The Shel”l, 1912

There are a few society ladies at the beginning of the show, a strong portrait of Marie de Heredia in red by Emile Lévy, one by Jacques Emile Blanche and another by Antonio de la Gandara. Two works by Helleu are particularly sensuous and three little girls by Daniel de Monfreid (his daughter age 3), “portrait of a young lady with brown hair” by Renoir and Louise Breslau‘s “the little girl with a white dog or portrait of Miss Adeline Poznanska” are sweet and refined..

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Mrs Emile Zola, ca 1879

What I love about this show is the mix of established painters and lesser known ones, who specialized in pastel. The collection of Orsay is unique and it is quite a unique moment to see them all together.

Until July 2, Musée d’Orsay. It is mandatory to book if you don’t want to queue.

Auguste Renoir, “Portrait of a young girl with dark hair, seated, with crossed hands”, 1879

On March 24 at 12 pm, in the auditorium, the curator Caroline Corbeau-Parsons will give an introduction to the exhibition and on March 30 th, at 7 pm, Isabelle Roché manager of “La maison du Pastel” will explain the specificities of pastel. On April 13, the artist Jean Baptiste Sécheret will talk about how artists from the past influence his art.

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One Comment on “Pastels are unique at Musée d’Orsay”

  1. The pastels are very lovely. “The Shell” is gorgeous. I am currently on Nevis for a month (you will be getting a postcard) where that shell is native, but unfortunately it is overfished.

    Love to you.

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