There was a very limited selection of pastel brands available to many of us who began working in the medium in the 1970s. This was an era before mail-order, let alone online retailers. Most of us had to rely on what was available at the local art supply store, and—if you happened to reside in a rural area—pastels could be extremely sparse if available at all. Those of us working in the medium during this time period refer to it as the “Dark Ages of Pastel.”
Grumbacher: While pastel selections were limited back in the day, there were two quality brands that enjoyed wide distribution: Grumbacher and Rembrandt. In 1905, Max Grumbacher, an Austrian immigrant, founded his company in New York City with a commitment to excellence. Working closely with Old World manufacturers from Europe, he was able to import, and eventually manufacture art supplies of exceptional quality in the United States. Older Grumbacher pastels indicate a relationship with the legendary German brand Schmincke, and there is conjecture that the later square Grumbacher pastels may have a tie to the Faber-Castell Company. After the family sold the company, the pastel line was eventually discontinued. Older Grumbacher pastels are still highly prized by those that find them in yard sales and on ebay.
Rembrandt: Rembrandt art supplies date back to 1899 when Marten Talens started his family business in Apeldoorn, Holland. His drive for excellence led to professional art materials made in the tradition of the Old Dutch Masters and are still being sold today. Offered in a well-organized range of hues, tints (lighter) and shades (darker), the 203-stick semi-hard pastel assortment was considered the benchmark for most of us working 40 years ago. The company’s commitment to excellence has never wavered but with the explosion of softer imported and boutique manufactured brands of pastel, they are often dismissed as being too hard by those new to the medium. This is a shame, as they definitely serve a very important technique purpose. Recently, I observed a demonstration by master artist Lorenzo Chavez. When asked about his palette, he mentioned a few of the popular brands, which we all adore, and then he turned to the group and said, “You know, when I started we had a very limited selection of pastels to choose from and Rembrandt was the best. I became comfortable using them and find that they still do a wonderful job.” So, let it be noted: Most of us use Rembrandt and find that they provide a much-needed consistency.
Rembrandt Darks: Recently, the line of Rembrandt pastels has been expanded with the introduction of a new 15-stick Dark assortment. Traditionally, many of us apply thinner layers of pastel in the darker passages and these new dark pastels are a welcome addition to our palettes.
Personally, I depend on a wide assortment of pastel brands. While the Grumbacher I remember is a thing of the past, the Rembrandt of my artistic youth is still vital and one I proudly use.
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