The use of pastel dates back as far as 15,000 B.C. as evidenced by cave murals found in France and Spain. However, it was not until 18th Century Europe that pastel became a respected art medium.
Pastels, most often formed in sticks, consist of powdered pigment that has been mixed with a binder and allowed to dry. Pastel is the most durable of media. Provided that it is not touched or physically disturbed, it will never crack, yellow, darken, or fade. The beauty and magical quality inherent in pastel art is a result of the powdery surface's unique ability to refract light.
The result is an intensity of color like no other medium. Rosalba Carreira is credited with starting the pastel movement in Europe in the late 1600s. She was followed by such well-known artists as La Tour, Millet, Manet, Degas, Renoi and Lautrec. Gaugin, Vuillard, Klee, and de Kooning were other artists who experimented with pastel effects.
The movement crossed the Atlantic around the late 1700s and became an important part of American art in the latter part of the 19th Century. Well-known American Pastelists include Cassatt, Whistler, Blum, Hassam, Henri, O'Keefe and Pollock. But the evolution has not been smooth because of misconceptions around the conservation and longevity of the medium. For hundreds of years, pastels have fired artists' imaginations and then been set aside for the more traditional oil and watercolor. Today that is changing as more museums recognize contemporary pastel artists and add master works of pastel to their collections.
The "true" American Pastel Renaissance began in 1972, when Flora Giffuni established a unique fine art school that taught only pastel, created an annual exhibition "For Pastels Only" and established the Pastel Society of America. Since then, the growth of interest in this art form has been remarkable. Today there are pastel societies throughout the world and artists and art lovers have reaffirmed their passion for this tantalizing medium of color and light.
Art Spirit director, Dianne Bernhard's love for pastel is not only apparent as an artist, but as a collector and advocate, "the result of Flora Giffuni's devotion is that pastels are now on equal status with all other media." As artists and their audiences rediscover the beauty and complexity of pastel, Art Spirit Foundation programs will be there to advance, support, promote, and document this major 21st Century art movement.