The Louvre Museum holds an unrivaled collection of European pastels from the 17th and 18th centuries. Mostly dating from the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, these extremely fragile works, created with a colored powder that has often been compared to that of a butterfly’s wings, introduce us to Enlightenment society and illustrate the genius of its most celebrated artists: Rosalba Carriera, Maurice Quentin de La Tour, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Jean-Étienne Liotard, Jean-Marc Nattier and Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, together with lesser known artists such as Marie-Suzanne Giroust, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Joseph Boze and Joseph Ducreux.
The publication of curator Xavier Salmon’s inventory of this extraordinary collection of some 160 works was celebrated recently with an exhibition that presented over 120 pastels from the Louvre’s collection, mostly dating from the 18th century―the golden age of pastel― together with works that may have been looted during WWII and were entrusted to the Louvre in 1949. Though the exhibition is over, the pastels are still housed in the Louvre.
These pastels illustrate the genius of the artists who produced them as artworks in their own right rather than preparatory studies enhanced with color. Many of them still have their original frame, and sometimes their original glass. Thanks to the support of the American Friends of the Louvre and Joan and Mike Kahn, the more than 150 works in the collection were systematically conserved and remounted to protect them from dust―a long-term project which provided an opportunity for new research on the collection. The results are included in a comprehensive annotated inventory, published in French and English with the support of Joan and Mike Kahn.
The collection takes a new look at masterpieces such as Maurice Quentin de La Tour’s Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour and features new acquisitions such as Simon Bernard Lenoir’s portrait of the actor Lekain. When visiting the Louvre, guests can compare these works by French artists with others by eminent international pastel artists such as Rosalba Carriera in Venice, Jean-Étienne Liotard in Geneva and John Russell in London. – GM
Courtesy of the Louvre