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"Degas, Renoir, and Poetic Pastels" exhibition opens at the Cincinnati Art Museum
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Mlle. Jeanne Samary, ca. 1878. Pastel. Bequest of Mary Hanna 1946.107

CINCINNATI, OH.- This fall, visitors will have a chance to take a sneak peek into the special world of our most famous pastel drawings. Light pink, gray, blue and purple clouds of misty figures shown as still life yet with the power of Degas, Renoir, and Poetic Pastels at the Cincinnati Art Museum, you will be inspired to imagine the movement of Degas’ famous ballet dancers in “The Ballet”, to contemplate a special conversation with Renoir’s thoughtful and glamorous portrait of “Jeanne Samary” and to admire the petals on one of the flowers in Odilon Redon’s simple and joyful “Blue Vase with Flowers”.

The selection of works from the Cincinnati Art Museum’s permanent collection highlights the achievements of the French artists who worked with pastels in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Rarely on display because of their sensitivity to light, works in the exhibition include five masterpieces by Edgar Degas featuring his preferred subject of the ballet dance. Also on display is Léon-Augustin Lhermitte’s large-scale Departure of the Flock, which exemplifies the artist’s ability to render materials and textures in their most natural forms, as well as Rosa Bonheur’s lyrical and dramatic masterpiece, Sheepfold by Moonlight in the Pyrenees, measuring four-and-a-half by six feet. The exhibition places the works by these renowned artists in their historical context while also addressing issues of conservation and materials.

In the first exhibition of what we now know as the Impressionists, in 1874, one critic praised the pastels and said they were “full of light and vigor” and “delicious.” Pastel, derived from the Latin word pasta, or “paste,” has been a preferred medium for artists since the fifteenth century. It is a chalky colored powder, modeled into a stick by combining pigment (such as an aquamarine), filler (often white chalk), and a binder such as gum tragacanth (a weak adhesive that holds the materials together). Artists such as Degas, Renoir and their contemporaries, were able to use pastel faster without the fuss of wet paint that might take up to a year to dry. These works, with their saturated hues and dense layers of velvety pigment, are some of the greatest achievements produced in newly industrialized and artistically fertile nineteenth-century France.

This is the first exhibition of European Art organized by European curator of paintings, drawings, and sculpture, Esther Bell.

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