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The name "pastel" comes from the French word "pastiche" which means "mixture" or "jumble". Pastels are pure powdered pigment, mixed with a special binder, ground into a paste, rolled into a stick and allowed to dry. Because there is virtually nothing in the sticks but pure pigment, if painted on a proper surface, it is the most permanent of all mediums and will remain unchanged for generations. Many pastels painted 250-300 years ago look as fresh as though they had been painted within the last five years. There is no yellowing or cracking to be concerned with and pastels rarely require restoration often required of oil paintings.
Renderings in pastel, dating back to 15,000 B.C., can be found in caves in France and Spain. The contemporary pastel movement was begun by Rosalba Carriera in the late 1600s and she was followed by artists such as Chardin, La Tour, Millet, Manet, Degas, Cassatt, Renoir, Lautrec, Gaugin, and Whistler. When Van Gogh saw some of Millet's pastels in an exhibition in 1875, he wrote to his brother Theo, "When I entered the hall where they were exhibited, I felt like saying, 'Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is Holy Ground."
The permanence of the medium helps pastel paintings hold their value. One of Millet's pastels, "Woodcutter and his Wife Preparing Fagots" (19 1/4 x 13 1/2), executed between 1865 and 1870, was recently valued by Sotheby's at $300,000 - $400,000. In 1988, Sotheby's sold a Degas pastel for $7,500,000! And recently, Edward Munch's "The Scream" sold for almost $120 million to a private buyer, the highest nominal price paid to date for a painting at auction.
This history and conservation information is interesting and valuable for collectors and conservators. It is drawing, painting, and sculpting rolled into one exciting experience. The microscopic flecks of pigment--the glorious, intensely staining dust--act like prisms. They imbed on the surface, rather than sinking in, and as such, they bounce reflected light and color in a hundred different directions, exhibiting both subtlety and brilliance, unmatched in any other medium.
(Source from Mary Aslin Art)