Wayne Thiebaud’s 1972 “Various Pastels (Pastel Scatter)” is appropriately featured in the exhibit “Color Into Line: Pastels From the Renaissance to the Present” at the Legion of Honor. (Courtesy Artists Rights Society/Photo by Randy Dodson/Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

Wayne Thiebaud’s 1972 “Various Pastels (Pastel Scatter)” is appropriately featured in the exhibit “Color Into Line: Pastels From the Renaissance to the Present” at the Legion of Honor. (Courtesy Artists Rights Society/Photo by Randy Dodson/Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

Legion of Honor exhibit a who’s who of artistic giants

‘Pastels convey the immediacy of a drawing, the appearance of a painting and the matte finish of a fresco’

Pastels, the chalky crayon-like sticks embraced by, most famously, Edgar Degas, who drew ballerinas with them, and Wayne Thiebaud, whose pastel cakes have charmed many a sweet tooth, have inspired a comprehensive museum exhibition. On view at the Legion of Honor through Feb. 13, the show details the history of the pastel and illustrates the medium’s creative possibilities. It also contains dozens of stellar artworks.

As the title suggests, the exhibit, “Color Into Line: Pastels From the Renaissance to the Present,” covers centuries of pastel art. It features more than 70 works by artists whose names add up to a who’s who of giants. The majority of these pieces come from the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Because of their fragility, pastel works aren’t often exhibited or lent, so a show of this sort is rare.

“Pastels convey the immediacy of a drawing, the appearance of a painting and the matte finish of a fresco” is how the Fine Arts Museums’ Furio Rinaldi, who curated the show, describes what museumgoers will see.

Display cases near the entrance introduce the pastel, whose composition — ground pigment, a dry filler (kaolin or chalk) and a binder (traditionally a vegetable gum) — as well as usage have changed little over time.

Presented chronologically, the exhibit begins with the Renaissance. A drawing in natural hues, “Head of a Veiled Woman, Looking Down” (1540), by Bernardino Lanino, a follower of Leonardo da Vinci, is a subtle work of lines and shades that illustrates the expressive potential of drawing.

In the 18th century, portraitists were discovering the intimacy and nuance that pastels make possible. Exemplifying this quality is a centerpiece attraction, “Portrait of a Man and his Dog” (1746-1750), a graceful work newly attributed to premier portraitist Jean-Etienne Liotard.

Deserving her own wall in the show is Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera, whose works include the exquisite “Portrait of a Lady as Diana” (1720), and who helped get pastel portraiture accepted as a serious art form. Carriera’s immense success, both critical and popular, helped other female artists, including some featured in the exhibition, make their mark. (Every gallery in the exhibit includes pieces by at least three female artists.)

Nineteenth-century works include still lifes, landscapes and domestic scenes. The development of a stable green pastel inspired some artists to work in the medium.

Selections include “Prosper” (1882), Albert Bartholome’s realistic portrait of his nephew; Edmond-Francois Aman-Jean’s “Les Confidences” (1898), a work that contains dynamically complementary reds and greens and stirs interest in the narrative behind the title; and Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Sewing Lesson” (1860), another work that illustrates the intimacy that pastels can achieve.

Albert Bartholome’s 1882 pastel portrait of his nephew, Prosper, is on view in “Color Into Line.” 
Courtesy Hecksher Family Collection/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Albert Bartholome’s 1882 pastel portrait of his nephew, Prosper, is on view in “Color Into Line.”
Courtesy Hecksher Family Collection/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Pastels proved popular with the impressionists, who found that creating a picture in pastel was faster than painting with oils and that pastels allowed for a freer working process.

Degas, one of impressionism’s foremost pastelists, creates a sense of immediacy and spontaneity in “Dancers” (1895) and “Seated Bather Drying Her Neck” (1905-1910).

Other impressionists working in pastel include Mary Cassatt (“Sarah in a Large Flowered Hat, Holding Her Dog,” 1901; “Bust of a Young Woman, 1885-1890); Eva Gonzales (“The Woman in Pink,” 1849); Berthe Morisot (“Toilette,” 1873); and Camille Pissarro “The Road to Ennery” (1874).

In the modern-era galleries, Odilon Redon (“Orpheus,” 1905), who depicted mythological and fantastical subjects, creates a sense of darkness and mystery with his deep-blue proto-surrealist “Orpheus” (1906).

Marsden Hartley’s Picasso-like untitled seated male nude (1923) uses line, color, form and technique to create a quietly affecting portrait of flesh-and-blood humanness. Could any medium other than pastel have achieved this?

Marsden Hartley’s 1923 Untitled (Seated Male Nude) is one of many pastels in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. (Photo by Randy Dodson/Courtesy FAMSF)

Marsden Hartley’s 1923 Untitled (Seated Male Nude) is one of many pastels in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. (Photo by Randy Dodson/Courtesy FAMSF)

California artists have a section in the show. Those who have lived and worked in the Bay Area include Thiebaud, known for his ample use of pigment and his depictions of everyday objects. On view are “Various Pastels” (1972), in which Thiebaud has drawn, using actual pastels, a picture of some pastel sticks, and “Two and One-Half Cakes” (1972), one of his appealing pictures of layer cakes.

Other featured local artists include Enrique Chagoya, whose “Thesis/Antithesis” (1989) addresses the dynamics between the oppressor and oppressed. Also look for Rupert Garcia’s “Calavera Cristobal”; sketchbook items by Richard Diebenkorn; and contemporary artist Donna Anderson Kam’s “dateline: (08-07) 16:22 PDT Trona, CA (AP)” (2020), a picture of a youth homeless encampment.

Also on the all-star bill are pastel works by Salvador Dali, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Joan Mitchell and Diego Rivera, to name just a handful.

IF YOU GO: Color Into Line: Pastels From the Renaissance to the Present

Where: Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; closed Monday; through Feb. 13

Admission: $10 to $25

Contact: (415) 750-3600, legionofhonor.org

Just Posted

California Highway Patrol officers watch as Caltrans workers remove barricades from homeless camp sites as residents are forced to relocate from a parking lot underneath Interstate 80 on Monday, May 17, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco’s broken promise to resolve homeless encampments

‘There is an idea that The City is leading with services, and they are not’

The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy SF.gov)
The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy SF.gov)
Whistleblowing hasn’t worked at San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection

DBI inspectors say their boss kept them off connected builders’ projects

FILE — Mort Sahl on Nov. 10, 1967. Sahl, who confronted Eisenhower-era cultural complacency with acid stage monologues, delivering biting social commentary in the guise of a stand-up comedian and thus changing the nature of both stand-up comedy and social commentary, died on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., near San Francisco. He was 94. (Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times)
Legendary local comedian dies at 94

By Bruce Weber NYTimes News Service Mort Sahl, who confronted Eisenhower-era cultural… Continue reading

Sharon Van Etten (left) reached out to Angel Olsen about working on a song and they ended up releasing “Like I Used To,” which may be performed at Outside Lands. (Photo by Dana Trippe)
Performers’ emotions are high as Outside Lands returns to San Francisco

Festival features Sharon Van Etten and Boy Scouts alongside The Strokes, Lizzo and Tame Impala

Most Read