Fashionable Likeness: Pastel Portraits in 18th-Century Britain
On view November 1, 2016 –May 7, 2017
at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center
Left: Sir James Gray, 2nd Bt., about 1744 – 1745. Rosalba Carriera (Italian, 1673 – 1757). Pastel on paper. Unframed: 56 x 45.8 cm.; framed: 82 x 70.5 cm. 2009.80. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Right: Henry Hoare, “The Magnificent,” of Stourhead, about 1750 – 1760. William Hoare (English, 1707 – 1792). Pastel on paper. Unframed: 61 x 45.7 cm.; framed: 100.3 x 64.8 x 8.9 cm. 2013.47.1. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
In eighteenth-century Britain, portraits were commissioned by an increasingly wide cross- section of society, including the newly rich, as a visible symbol of their wealth and cultural aspirations. Fashionable Likeness: Pastel Portraits in 18th –Century Britain, on view November 1, 2016 through May 7, 2017, explores the topic of portrait drawing through a number of works in the Getty Museum’s permanent collection and select loans.
“Eager to affirm their elevated social status, sitters in 18th-century Europe were frequently portrayed in the latest fashion, wearing opulent outfits topped with powdered wigs and elaborate hairstyles,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “With its unique texture and luminosity, pastel was the perfect medium to capture the sitters’ evanescent expressions and the symbols of their stature – the richness of their silk dresses and velvet coats. As well as its rich artistry, this exhibition also provides an insight into the carefully calibrated social structure of the day.”
“For artists and sitters, pastel painting offered practical advantages over oil, as it required fewer sittings and did not need to dry between sessions,” says Julian Brooks, co-curator of the installation. “In addition, ready-made pastel sticks were easily portable and cost less than oils.”
The first artist to become internationally renowned for pastel portraits was the Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera, whose work was much sought after by collectors across Europe. Praised for her talent at capturing a vivid likeness, Carriera employed a subtle technique of smoothing and blending hues that influenced a generation of British pastelists. Among those was John Russell, who trained with Francis Cotes and later authored Elements of Painting with Crayons (1772), one of the earliest English treatises on the pastel technique.
In a sumptuous and vibrant family portrait by Daniel Gardner, Portrait of Mary Sturt of Crichel and Her Three Eldest Children (about 1777), Gardner perfectly illustrates English high society’s taste for fashionable costumes. Mary Sturt’s son, Humphry, wears a ruffled necktie and double-breasted striped waistcoat with large pointed lapels. His matching pair of breeches fastened at the knee feature a stylish rosette instead of the usual buckle, details only made possible with the use of pastels. “This portrait is a magnificent example of Gardner’s very original technique,” says Ketty Gottardo, co-curator of the installation. “Unusual for a pastelist, he mixed pastel powder with alcohol and applied it with a brush to paint faster, only rendering the faces in dry pastel.”
Fashionable Likeness: Pastel Portraits in 18th –Century Britain will be on view November 1, 2016 through May 7, 2017 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The installation is curated by Julian Brooks, senior curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Ketty Gottardo, former associate curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum now at The Courtauld Gallery in London. They were assisted by former graduate intern Alessandra Nardi.
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