One of the goals many pastel painters have is to be represented by a nice gallery. We all seek validation for our efforts, and seeing our works nicely displayed, well illuminated, and — hopefully — sold is rewarding. Sadly, works under glass often face considerable prejudice from many galleries. Add to that the perceived fragility of pastel and this becomes even more of an issue. After many years of building gallery relationships, I have a few observations to share:
If a gallery represents a majority of works on canvas, they will be more receptive to displaying works that are presented in a similar fashion. Current trends are heavily weighted towards the plein air or Impressionist’s frames of the early 1900s. Regions differ, so it’s wise to visit a broad cross section of galleries to better see what kind of framing is typical. Since pastel has a close kinship to oil, both being opaque by nature and often applied with bold strokes, presenting it in a similar method to oil paintings can often open doors of opportunity that may be closed to a traditional mat and frame offering. (See my blog post from October 8, 2007, for more on that subject.)
The necessity of glass is the most frequently mentioned concern of most galleries. This is a two-fold issue: the reflective glare of glass and the additional difficulty of shipping a piece framed with glass. With the advent of anti-reflective glazing and museum glass, which incorporates UV protection, the first can easily be remedied. Paintings framed with these glass types are often hard to tell from other works on canvas. There’s an added cost involved in using these glass products, but prices have been decreasing with the rise in demand. Ask your framer if they might pass on a discount if you buy in volume.
When dealing with the second issue, that of shipping, it’s as simple as learning how to properly pack a painting under glass. With a little effort, this can easily be accomplished. I can attest to many pastel works having been shipped, both by myself and from galleries, with no damage. (See two previous posts on shipping methods from May 19, 2008 and May 27, 2008.)
The bottom-line, though, is that galleries will only sell what they believe in. If a gallery isn’t interested in your work or isn’t enthusiastic about pastel, don’t waste your time. Even if your work is displayed, the sales staff will undoubtedly steer patrons to other works. I have had galleries tell me that pastel simply doesn’t sell. This is ironic in the face of considerable sales volume from galleries that represent some of the best pastelists in the country. If a gallery simply isn’t interested in displaying works under glass, for whatever reason, there’s no point in trying to convince them otherwise. If, on the other hand, they like your work and are sure it would sell but are concerned about the fact that it’s pastel, a little education may convince them to give it a chance. And, if they present the work with confidence, their patrons will believe in it as well.