A Handful of Dust – Georgian Pastels from the Permanent Collection, The Holburne Museum, Great Pulteney Street, Bath BA2, until 18th September 2016
This year the Museum celebrates its centenary a 100 Years Here with a series of exhibitions. One is quite delightful, featuring rarely seen 18th century portraits in pastel. Pastel is a mixture of china clay, plaster and pigment which are rolled into sticks. However it is fragile and can deteriorate quite easily. Indeed Thomas Lawrence wrote on the back of one of his pastels ‘to be kept from the Damp &sun/and must not be shook.’
Be that as it may the effect of pastel when applied to paper is quite luminous especially for portraits as the examples here amply show. It became a medium adopted by British artists for about a hundred years from the 1730s. Unlike portraits in oils pastels required no time for drying so Bath painters such as William Hoare and a young Thomas Lawrence often used it when depicting short-term visitors to the city.
The technique was revived by Impressionist artists as we will discover in another exhibition at the Holburne.