Saturday, 8 September 2018

Art Review: French Pastels—Treasures from the Vault at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Dandelions against tangled grass, the soft folds of a ballerina’s tutu, a farmyard quilted with snow—these are just some of the scenes nineteenth-century French painters bring to life in a Boston exhibition dedicated to a medium known for its difficulty to preserve, as well as its evocative sensory effects.

Dandelions, Jean-Francois Millet (1867-8)
Many of the Museum of Fine Art’s pastels are delicate and rarely seen on display but, even more than Impressionist paintings, they capture a moment in time and in French art history.

Monet used them to record a fleeting sunset and Degas to immortalise dancers at work (you can even see the former outline of limbs he’s corrected, ghostly appendages suggesting dynamic movement and the challenges of conveying this through a static image).

Dancers Resting, Edgar Degas (1881-5)
Works by Pissaro, Cassat, Manet and Renoir are also on display, as well as pastels by Millet, whose darker scenes demonstrate the versatility of the technique. In common parlance ‘pastel’ suggests a light and inoffensive colour-way, yet depth and texture are what’s all important in the works of these artists.

Farmyard by Moonlight, Jean-Francois Millet (1868)
The exhibition only encompasses two small rooms but the quality of the works more than makes up for the small size. It may be another decade before you have the chance to see these pastels in person again, so, if you’re in Boston, visit while you can.

Cottages in the Snow, Johan Frederik Thaulow (1891)
Which exhibitions focused on the nineteenth-century would you like the Secret Victorianist to review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Google+, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.