Dictionary of pastellists before 1800



"Obtiendrait-on d'une étude opiniâtre et longue le mérite de La Tour?" – Diderot, Salon de 1767

One artist sits at the heart of the Dictionary of pastellists: Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, and as the material about him is spread over so many files within the Pastels & pastellists site, this page serves as a table of contents of a virtual monograph and catalogue raisonné. While there have been hundreds of books about La Tour, especially on the Saint-Quentin collection, and a major exhibition in 2004, the last catalogue raisonné was published in 1928 by Georges Wildenstein (with an introduction by Albert Besnard, generously given co-author status on the title page, referred to here as B&W). The only book published in English, by Adrian Bury, is of very limited value (it even reproduces a work by a different artist on the cover).

The fundamental question for any catalogue raisonné of a portraitist is whether to attempt to arrange the works in chronological order, or in alphabetical order of sitter. The former approach is a peculiarly unhelpful approach for La Tour: he did not sign and date his works, only a small proportion of which can be linked to exhibitions or other events (perhaps 150 or so works can be objectively dated), and multiple versions may not all have been made at the same time. Although La Tour lived to an advanced age, no work is known before about 1735, and very little after 1770, so costume information (which in any case cannot apply to préparations of heads in isolation) provides limited guidance. La Tour's technique is quite varied, but it does not evolve continuously over time. Even if an accurate chronological arrangement were possible, it would be of little utility to readers seeking to find a portrait of a named sitter. For those reasons, the La Tour catalogue here follows the standard conventions in the Dictionary.

Information on sitters is presented in several ways. The most important pastels are given separate essays set out below (with others to follow). Other famous sitters have well-known biographies which have almost nothing to do with La Tour or their portrait; readers can pursue these independently. Many of La Tour's clients belonged to important families and were the subject of other portraits: these can be found in the iconographical genealogies, along with more biographical material and sources, albeit in compact form (the entries typically list only the names of portraitists working in other media, for which full details can be found from standard catalogues.) For most sitters where there is little to say, a simple description of dates and quality is given in the entry.

If the Dictionary is work in progress, the sections on La Tour in particular will continue to be the focus of attention for years to come. Communications from art historians, museums and private collectors with new pastels, better images of known ones and documents of any kind will be particularly welcome, as will notification of any errors or omissions. Here is a guide to the material currently available or sketched: