The World War I-era song, “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm? (After They’ve Seen Paree),” could also describe how many of us felt after first using pastels manufactured by the legendary brands of France: Sennelier, Girault and Henri Roché. By the 18th century in Europe, pastel was very much in fashion with noted artists such as Quentin de la Tour, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Rosalba Carriera contributing to its popularity. Also being celebrated were the pastels being made in Paris—many of which are still being manufactured today.
Few pastelists have had the chance to experience Henri Roché pastels, but once they do, they never want to be without them. The brand has roots that date back to 1720. Over time the business has evolved into the firm, La Maison du Pastel, still manufactured in Paris. In 1887, M. Henri Roché became the head of the company and it has stayed in the family every since. Currently, it is in the loving hands of Isabelle Roché who, with assistance from Margaret Zayer, continues the family tradition, using the finest pigments available and traditional equipment and methods.
The clarity, intensity, and diversity of Roché pastels are well noted. They are manufactured in small quantities, and are individually hand-rolled to a shape suitable for both bold and delicate applications. Lightfast pigments are combined with a minimum of binder, producing pastels that possess a unique texture that facilitates adhesion to various surfaces while still displaying remarkable intensity of color. Very little tonal shift is noticeable when fixative is applied over these pastels.
In some recent correspondence I had with Margaret Zayer, she wrote:
“First and foremost, we are still steadily increasing the range of our soft pastels and eagerly await passing the 1,000 color/gradation threshold. We are doing this both with colors that are formally part of our collection from the 1930s (of 1,650 colors), and with new colors that we find to be missing in this collection, that we deliberately formulate, or stumble upon while testing and/or discovering pigments. In the last few months, we have tried to fill in a few of the neutrals and greys and came to fall in love with them. So there will undoubtedly be more of that in the future, along with more of everything else!
“But we are excited to plunge head first into a number of alternative projects, embracing old and new products and materials. At its peak, La Maison du Pastel manufactured not only soft pastels, but also hard and semi-hard lines, mediums for preparing surfaces, and prepared boards/papers of many shapes and colors. The industry for pastel and pastel accessories has evolved so much that there is no longer the need to revive many of these products. However, given that our experience lies in making the soft pastels, a natural step for us will be to bring back a range of semi-hard pastels. The artists who have tried our old stock from the late 19th century (available in limited sets at our shop in Paris) have responded quite strongly to them, and are eager for a range of them to be available, but we are still in the early stages of testing. So, it will be a while …
“In the meantime, we’ve also become taken by the magic of effects pigments, and are working to slowly realize what will become a substantial collection of metallic and pearlescent colors. We are starting with the classics (gold, silver, copper), but have a few other surprises up our sleeves for the future, which we hope will open up new and previously unrealized possibilities for our clients.”
While Roché Pastels may seem very expensive when compared to other pastel brands, it is be hard to resist them once you experience these handmade pastels. Anyway, you are worth it and you no longer have to go all the way to Paris to acquire them—not that that would be a bad idea!
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