A luminous selection of pastel drawings and paintings in Cleveland, Ohio is Drawing magazine’s exhibition of the month for December. “Pure Color: Pastels from the Cleveland Museum of Art,” on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art through March 19, 2017, celebrates pastels made from the second half of the 19th through the early 20th century, a remarkably creative period of richness, diversity, and experimentation in the use of the medium.
During this time period, works on paper were increasingly valued, collected, and exhibited as works of art in their own right. In response to this trend, the Société des Pastellistes de France was created in 1885 to promote the work of artists working in pastel; the first exhibition dedicated to the medium was held in Paris that same year.
“Made from powdered pigments combined with a water-soluble binder, pastels are simultaneously fragile and robust,” writes Heather Lemonedes, the chief curator of “Pure Color,” in an essay about the exhibition. “Some artists have used the medium for its hazy, vaporous qualities, others for its vigorous graphic effects. Capable of offering an infinite range of hue, unrivaled in freshness and intensity, pastel has been likened to butterfly wings, crushed velvet, stardust.”
Impressionists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt were attracted by the spectrum of available colors with which they could capture the transient effects of nature and light—from a windswept field of golden wheat to the blush on a youthful cheek. Post-Impressionists Odilon Redon and Claude-Emile Schuffenecker used the kaleidoscopic range of pastel to communicate their expressive and symbolic responses to the world around them. Modernist artists such as Otto Freundlich and Gino Severini used the medium on their path toward abstraction.