Pastels are an extraordinary medium, fragile and subtle and for this reason, the exhibition at the Louvre, “En société, pastels from the Louvre” is a small miracle. A hundred and twenty pieces from the collections of the museum are exhibited in the Sully aisle and one almost feels dizzy from seeing so many portraits together. They all date from the 17 th and 18 th century and represent the best of European painters at the time.
From Rosalba Carriera, a Venetian lady painter who spent two years in Paris in 1720-21 to the extraordinary Swiss artist Jean Etienne Liotard, Chardin, Nattier, Vigée Le Brun are all there with their portraits of famous courtesans or just family members. Joseph Vivien, who trained in Charles Le Brun’s workshop, was the first one to use pastel independently after Simon Vouet had enhanced his drawings with color. The technique of pastel was admired for its freshness and it gives to the skin a very soft impression.
Two beautiful portraits by Maurice Quentin de la Tour of Marie Lesczynska, Queen of France, and of Marquise de Pompadour, show for both kindness and charm. The details of the dresses in blues, white and gold are exquisite. Many of these paintings entered the collections of the Louvre under Napoléon, some were seized from exiled aristocrats who had fled to London after the Revolution, others were in the Royal Academy of painting which Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun was one of the first woman to join. The result is a unique collection of 160 pastels, one of the largest in Europe, which was recently restored and catalogued by Xavier Salmon, the director of the department of Graphic arts at the Louvre.
The frames are all original and very exceptional so do have a good look at them. Walking through this gallery of “people” is very exciting even if the hanging is a little overwhelming by force.
And while you are at the Louvre, stop by under the Pyramid to look at the gold throne by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa, which is part of the Japanese celebrations in France this year.
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