Fighting the Pastel Fragility Bias | Proper Presentation, Storage and Transport of Pastel Paintings, Part 1

The general public’s impression of pastel as a fine art medium has evolved over the last century. Once considered a soft chalky medium better suited for delicate portraits, it now stands confidently toe-to-toe with the boldest of painted works. This is due in large part to the alchemy of product and artist. Nevertheless, while the public’s visual bias towards pastel has waned, the perception of it as a fragile medium continues to persist.

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This photograph shows three pastel paintings framed with anti-reflection museum glass displayed in a room surrounded by windows.

The Source of the Pastel Fragility Bias: To remedy this, it is the pastelist’s obligation to always properly present, store and transport pastel works so as not to propagate the fragility myth. The public often has a very different opinion of pastel: formed from childhood memories of colored chalk’s proclivity to messiness and smears. In adulthood, they see major museums frequently displaying pastel paintings in dimly-lite rooms, not understanding that it is due to the fragile papers historically used, not the pastel pigment itself. Add to this the necessity of presenting pastel paintings under glazing, and we find the underpinnings of their prejudice.

Proper Pastel Presentation: When presenting a finished pastel painting, it’s advisable to use one of the modern anti-reflective glazings that are currently available today. While still considerably more expensive than common plate glass, the new anti-reflective glasses (AR) and Museum Grade variations (which incorporate an additional embedded UV filter for harmful ultraviolet light rays) have greatly advanced the public’s acceptance of pastel and other media requiring presentation under glass. Gone is the green colorcast and reflective glare of regular plate glass as well as the dulling diffusion of traditional non-glare glazing. This advancement has permitted galleries and collectors to hang pastel paintings wherever they desire. The added benefits of UV protection has greatly improved the lightfastness of pigments which will keep paintings appearing vibrant for centuries to come.

Safe Storage for Pastels: Because not all of our pastel paintings are destined for a frame, it’s imperative that we store them in a safe archival manner. The two major culprits capable of causing damage are touch and moisture. To alleviate the potential for a pastel painting to become smeared, sheets of glassine paper can be carefully laid over the face of the painting and hinged along the top with a non-acidic tape that can easily be removed. Paintings close in size can then be stacked one on top of another without fear of damage. To protect stored paintings from moisture, they can be placed in anti-static plastic bags. If anti-static plastic bags aren’t available, it’s advisable to place acid free sheets of mat board, or similar products, in front and behind the glassine-protected paintings. This builds a moister barrier and negates any static cling.

In next week’s posting, this conversation will continue with tips on transporting unfinished, as well as finished, pastel paintings. 

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