Dictionary of pastellists before 1800



The online edition of the Dictionary now (2022) includes more than 2800 articles on pastellists. With all reservations as to the difficulties of analysing imperfect and inconsistent records of this kind, some salient demographics emerge from the data. For the purposes of this analysis, the artists were divided into significant (artists for whom a minimum of 10 records or 4 images are known); minor (known pastellists with a smaller known œuvre); amateur; and unverified (artists who may have worked in pastel according to unverifiable sources). A few dozen articles contain anonymous pastel copies of works by artists who did not work in pastel; these are omitted below. Of the remaining pastellists, some 10% were significant, 67% minor, 14% amateur and 10% unverified. Of the minor artists, fewer than half can be credited with any work that can be located today or is known from a photograph.

Of the 276 significant artists, 44 are known from a pastel œuvre of more than 50 photographic images; 54 from between 21 and 50 images; 73 from 11–20; and the remaining 105 from 10 or fewer images.

The breakdown between schools, across all levels, was as follows: American, Canadian: 3%; English: 15%; Scottish: 1%; Irish: 3%; Dutch: 6%; Flemish: 2%; French: 32%; Swiss: 2%; German: 17%; Austrian, Hungarian, Central European, Baltic and Polish: 3%; Scandinavian: 2%; Russian: 1%; Italian: 11%; Spanish: 1%.

The breakdown between national schools for the 276 signicant pastellists was as follows: American: 4%; English: 19%; Irish: 4%; Dutch: 9%; French: 34%; Swiss: 3%; German: 16%; Scandinavian: 3%; Italian: 8%.

These figures include significant variations of levels between schools. For example, a disproportionate number of the Russian and Spanish records are of amateurs (43% and 32% against an overall 14%).

Only some 17% of the pastellists were female overall, but this figure also varies significantly in the subgroups. Women made up less than 10% of the significant artists, while accounting for 45% of amateurs. They represented half the recorded Spanish artists but only an eighth of the Dutch and just over a fifth of the English and French schools. There are of course inevitable biases in the data, which reflect varying cultural traditions, for example, in relation to the admission and recording of honorary members in academies.

Twenty-two pastellists (1%) were royal (no doubt including a number of artists receiving extensive help from their tutors), while 74 were noble (ignoring honours bestowed for artistic achievement). Eleven were monks or nuns; at least ten (and probably many more) were freemasons; five were deaf-mutes.

The Dictionary covers somewhat more than 14,000 named sitters, of whom some 56% are male. Based on a sample of the records, the breakdown of social status was as follows:

Statesmen, politicians, courtiers: 45%; Diplomats: 2%; Administrators, financiers: 8%; Lawyers: 3%; Merchants, industry: 2%; Military and naval: 14%; Religion and church: 6%; Science, medecine: 3%; Visual arts: 7%; Architects: 1%; Theatre, music: 4%; Writers: 4%; Tradesmen, peasants, servants: 1%.

A slightly different breakdown can be made of the 400 or so named sitters exhibited in the Paris salons (Louvre and Saint-Luc) between 1704 and 1789:

Royalty: 11%; Church: 5%; Military: 17%; Magistrates: 7%; Finance: 8%; Diplomats: 1%; Artists: 31%; Architects: 3%; Performing artists: 11%; Writers, scientists etc: 6%

Care is required in interpreting such data, which are subject to bias of various types (for example, the wife of a ruler will usually be a courtier, while that of an industrialist is often unclassified). The significant point however is that, as with all portraiture before 1800, the majority of subjects are those from the upper ranks of society (mostly noble or royal), while among the bourgeoisie, only the intelligentsia and arts are well represented. As appears from an analysis of Paris exhibitions during the eighteenth century, pastels were preferred to traditional portraiture by many Enlightenment personalities and newly ennobled financiers.