Pastel Painting

The Soft Touch of Artistry: Exploring the History, Technique, Styles, and Renowned Artists of Pastel Painting


Pastel painting, characterized by its velvety texture and luminous colors, has captivated artists and art enthusiasts for centuries. This delicate medium has a rich history, intricate techniques, diverse styles, and a roster of famous artists who have left an indelible mark on the art world. This article embarks on a journey to uncover the essence of pastel painting, from its origins to its contemporary prominence.

A Brief History

Pastel painting traces its roots to ancient times, with traces of its use found in ancient Egypt and Greece. However, it was during the 18th century that pastels gained widespread popularity, thanks to artists like Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Maurice Quentin de La Tour. The medium’s exquisite subtlety and ease of application led to its adoption by both professional artists and hobbyists.

The Technique: Soft Strokes and Layering

Pastel sticks consist of pure pigment held together by a minimal binder, resulting in a vibrant, intense color palette. Artists apply pastels in soft, broad strokes, creating a unique blend of drawing and painting. The layering of colors allows for a depth and richness that is distinctively pastel. The absence of a wet medium ensures minimal drying time, enabling artists to work quickly and spontaneously.

Exploring Styles in Pastel Painting

1. Impressionism: Pastels found a natural home within the Impressionist movement. Artists like Edgar Degas embraced the medium to capture the fleeting effects of light and atmosphere, producing scenes of everyday life with a sense of immediacy.

2. Realism: Pastels lend themselves well to realism, allowing artists to depict intricate details with a soft yet precise touch. Mary Cassatt’s pastel portraits are renowned for their sensitivity and realism.

3. Abstract and Expressionism: While pastel painting often invokes thoughts of softness, some artists push the boundaries by using pastels for expressive abstraction. Artists like Odilon Redon and Wolf Kahn used the medium to create ethereal, dreamlike landscapes.

Famous Pastel Artists

1. Edgar Degas (1834-1917): A key figure in both Impressionism and pastel art, Degas is renowned for his ballet scenes and intimate portrayals of daily life. His mastery of pastels is evident in the vibrant energy and sense of movement in his works.

2. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926): An American artist associated with Impressionism, Cassatt is celebrated for her tender portraits of women and children. Her delicate and empathetic use of pastels brought a unique charm to her pieces.

3. Odilon Redon (1840-1916): Redon’s work bridges the gap between Symbolism and early abstraction. His imaginative pastel compositions often delve into fantastical and otherworldly realms.

4. Wolf Kahn (1927-2020): Kahn’s landscapes are characterized by their vibrant color palettes and expressive use of pastels. His works capture nature’s beauty through a blend of realism and abstraction.

5. Daniel Greene (b. 1934): An acclaimed contemporary pastel artist, Greene is known for his figurative portraits that exhibit remarkable realism and meticulous detail.


Pastel painting’s enduring allure lies in its ability to combine the softness of drawing with the vibrancy of painting. From its inception to its place in contemporary art, pastels have evolved to encompass a wide range of styles and techniques. The luminous quality and tactile nature of pastel works have attracted artists from different eras and backgrounds, leaving an exquisite legacy of masterpieces that continue to captivate audiences worldwide.