The Exuberant Art of Crayon Painting

Bouquet of Flowers-Odilon Redon; courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Andrea here, musing about art today. I made a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City—one of my favorite places in the world!—to see a show on Literary Posters (more on that in a future blog.) But as usual, I took a stroll through a number of the other galleries just to enjoy the heady buzz of creative energy that always swirls through any venue showcasing art.

As I took in some of the marvelous works by the Impressionists, I was reminded that this past Christmas, I gave a set of pastels “crayons” to an art-minded friend—and also decided to gift myself with a set, too! I have very fond childhood memories of exuberantly scribbling away with the huge set of colorful sticks that my artist mother let me use in her studio. The colors are much richer than regular crayons, as they are actually fashioned with ground pigments, just like oil paints.

That got me to thinking about the art of pastels, and how it has an odd niche in the pantheon of artistic mediums.  It doesn’t get as much respect as one might think—perhaps because, like me, many children use pastels in school art classes because of the rich colors, and so it doesn’t have the same mystique as oil painting. So, history nerd that I am, I decided to do a little research into the subject . . .

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Ask A Wench – Memorable Trips

51qaeVAqN5L._SX324_BO1 204 203 200_Nicola here, introducing our monthly Ask A Wench feature. A few weeks ago, the Wenches got chatting about past holiday/vacation experiences and all sorts of stories came out of trips that were variously good, bad, fascinating, hilarious, life-changing and emotional.  With the world the way it is at the moment, most of us are travelling vicariously, so we thought that for the AAW we would share some of those travellers’ tales and ask you for your own stories of memorable trips.

Susan writes: 

The first time I went to Britain and Europe was the first I had ever left the country, been on a plane, or 1200px-Interior_of_Sainte-Chapelle_traveled with friends rather than family. I was in grad school when I went to England, France, and Belgium for nearly a month, in mostly glorious June weather, with an art history professor and another student and her husband, and the professor's wife for part of the trip as well. It was an incredible adventure, one crazy, fun day after another as we traveled by train, Hovercraft, and little tin-can rental cars, hauling this way and that to visit cathedrals, castles, and museums, especially those off the beaten track. I was immersed in medieval studies and the prof and student were 19th century specialists, so we had quite the wish list between us for art and architecture, and hit every high point belonging in the art history texts – and a few low ones that maybe didn't – that we could find. 

 Our adventures included lost luggage, getting lost in the English and French countrysides – and while happily toodling along through the Loire Valley in a little Renault, suddenly finding ourselves in the crazy midst of the Tour de France (who knew that was going on, it was before the internet, and the papers were all in French so we understandably missed that little detail). From Paris through the Loire and back again, I tried out my French, and even with six years of study and a French grandmama, it was a constant but exciting challenge, with some memorable faux pas (no, I did not know that le poisson I ordered would come served with its eyeballs staring at me, and I still don't like to order fish in a restaurant). In England, we covered a lot of territory by train and car and on foot. At one point I developed a raging case of strep throat and had to find a doctor in London – whose receptionist had no idea how to take a payment from a foreigner. "How about five pounds," the doctor finally said with a shrug, and I paid and went off to the chemists for an antibiotic before we took off for Canterbury and southern England, then France. In Paris, I fell in love with Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle and a million other wonderful things, and then Chartres, Versailles…and off to Amiens, where our hotel reservations had somehow not been confirmed on the French side, and my friend's husband, who spoke very bad French, came back to report that "Le sitchoowaysheeon ay tray grave," which made us all howl with laughter and became our trip's motto. 

Retable_de_l'Agneau_mystique_(3)And on through the castles and towns of the Loire, past golden and lavender fields, stone castles, a thousand bicycles, and back up again to Rouen to feed my lifelong obsession for Jeanne d'Arc… and then up to Belgium and Bruges – a medievalist's paradise – and Ghent to study more of Van Eyck, all related to my thesis work. And along the way, I learned a great deal about 19th c. art and how to order food for a finicky stomach, and more, courtesy of my friends. Just an unforgettable trip that still sticks with me today. I'm so grateful to have seen it all with good friends, including a professor who was not only a brilliant historian and a great teacher, but just a hoot, which made all the difference when we were all jammed in that petit Renault. And finally, back home to the new husband who didn't mind me leaving to go do my art history thing – and back to the studies, with much-improved French and a greater appreciation for history, art, the world, les bicyclettes on le road, and friendship as well. 


Holidays with my family were often memorable for the wrong reasons and one of them more so Tutankhamun
than others. When I was 17, my parents took me and my brother on what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. We started off with a few days in the Seychelles – so far so good – and then continued on to Kenya to go on safari. There were no decent roads so we had to fly to the safari park in a tiny propeller plane that made me feel very ill. Once there, we found that we were supposed to sleep in tents – luxurious ones with showers and proper beds, but still … with wild animals nearby? And I had to share my shower with the biggest spider I’d ever seen in my life! He wouldn’t budge and I wasn’t going to touch him. During the first night, a herd of elephants rampaged through the tent compound. Luckily no one was hurt and I’d managed to sleep through it (thus proving that nothing wakes me!), but even hearing about it afterwards was more than a little scary. Being a typical teenager, I didn’t enjoy the following days spent roaming the countryside looking for wild animals – not my thing. And just before leaving for the next safari park, my brother decided to feed the local monkeys. One of them bit him – cue a whole afternoon spent at a hospital in Nairobi while he had to have rabies shots and I thought he was going to die!

By Jebulon - Own work  CC0  httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid 46576308Leaving Kenya was a relief, and the next stop was Egypt, something I’d been looking forward to enormously. I knew I wouldn’t be bored there, being a history buff! The only problem was that Tutankhamun and his famous mask weren’t there – they’d gone on tour – so I didn’t get to see them (although I did go in his tomb). We hired a private guide to take us to the Pyramids, and on the way back to the hotel he stopped at a perfume shop (presumably owned by his family) where we were herded inside by a couple of rather intimidating men who wouldn’t let us leave until we’d bought some yucky perfume bottles – scary! I also developed the mother of all colds with a raging sore throat, and felt so ill I fainted in the temple of Karnak. (In my defence, it was 40 degrees Celsius I the shade). It didn’t stop me from visiting Luxor though, and at least there were no monkeys …

I had recovered somewhat by the time we continued on to Greece, where I was looking forward to seeing the Acropolis. When we arrived, however, the airline had lost my suitcase which was upsetting. We visited the airport several times to see if they’d found it and they must have got sick of seeing us so they said we could go and look for ourselves. Turned out in the basement they had literally thousands of lost suitcases, but would you believe it – I found mine! Anyway, I did enjoy the sights but it was quite a relief to go home after all that.


I’ve had a number of memorable trips (including those where Everything Went Wrong) . . . backpacking with my brothers in the Wind Andrea
 River mountains of Wyoming . . . discovering Tuscany . . . a river barge trip through Scotland . . . But I think the most special experience was traveling through Switzerland with my mother—just the two of us—and seeing all the places that were part of her childhood. I was leaving my first job after college and we decided to take a month to travel before I went on to my new job.

 We started in Zurich, where she grew up right on the lake, a few miles out of the city. We then traveled by scenic train and boat through the Alps, where she had spent a year away at school learning French in French Switzerland, and then down to the Engadine, where she had skied every winter with her family. We did lots of hiking every day, and over dinner and wine had a chance to bond in a new way than just as Mother and Child. We had always been close—I don’t have sisters—but this was exploring not only a gorgeous country, and her family memories, but also the changing relationship  of child becoming an independent adult. It was a very meaningful experience that both of us treasured.

 One of her favorite places was the Silsersee, a breathtakingly beautiful lake near St. Moritz. We hiked around it, and she told of how much she loved cross country skiing on the frozen lake in winter, and beauty of walking there in Fall. I went back two years ago, and brought with me a small vial of her ashes, which I put into the lake. It was a crystal-clear day and I like to think she was smiling at joining a part of the cosmos that was dear to her heart.

Pat: We travel a great deal for research as well as pleasure, so it’s hard to sort out all the lovely memories. Our first trip down the Pat Danube last year was certainly memorable in many ways, as was our research trip to the Orkneys with Mary Jo and spouse. But if we’re talking about emotional memories, I think it would have to be our last vacation with our kids when they were both teens and young enough to be forced into the car with us. <G>

The kids were still in school. I was writing and working, and my husband had a job that took up a lot of time, so scheduling all four
of us required effort. But we spent two weeks on the road, traveling from the Mississippi River through the Southwest to the California coast and back through the Rockies. One kid wanted Disneyland, the other wanted Haight-Asbury. All the wondrous parks and mountains and deserts in between meant nothing to them—but Chaco Canyon and the Rocky Mountains are the photos we took. We all have those memories now, and nothing can take them away from us—now that’s special.

Mary Jo

WestminsterI've taken many wonderful journeys: Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, the Amazon.  Lots of cruises on riverboats and in the Baltic and the Caribbean and more.  So hard to single out just one!

 But perhaps the most memorable was my first trip to Europe.  My mother spent much of her childhood abroad, and we were raised with stories of her living in China, Thailand, Switzerland.  I was passionate to travel myself, and I managed my first grand journey after my sophomore year of college.  I worked part time in the university library to earn money to pay for the trip–in retrospect, I'm not sure how I managed it!

 I traveled with Merril, one of my college roommates.  I guess our parents figured we were both steady enough to be allowed loose on another continent.  We took a charter flight full of students from New York to London, and then–we were there! Jetlagged and eyes full of wonder.  The plan had been to buy bicycles in London and head north, staying at youth hostels. A lot of the other hostelers were hitchhiking, and we soon realized that bicycles were very limiting in terms of the ground we could cover, so we stashed them in a hostel in Lichfield and stuck out our thumbs.

Yes, we covered lots of ground and never had a problem with the people who picked us up. (Safety in numbers?)  North to Scotland, then back to London.  (We retrieved the bikes in Lichfield and sold them back to the London shop where we bought them.)  Then the ferry to Belgium, north to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, south to Switzerland and Italy, then to Paris and back to London. 

 In retrospect, I'm amazed at our intrepidity.  (Possibly stupidity. <G>)  We saw many great places, had café au lait with fresh croissants in Paris, and met many, many wonderful young people in the hostels. This is where I first met the amazing young women of Australia and New Zealand who were doing their version of the Grand Tour by taking a year off to travel around the world.  (Anne Gracie, our Aussie wench, has some great stories about her journeys!)

As I write this, I'm remembering all kinds of specific incidents, too many to relate here, but most of all, I'm recognizing what an amazing, life changing experience Merril and I had. Three months after we left, we returned to New York intact and still friends.  And I'd taken the first big step to a lifetime of travel.

 Anne here. Like Mary Jo, I've done a fair bit of travel in my time, and each trip has been memorable in some way. One was a Annebackpacking trip I took when I was about nineteen, hitch-hiking around NZ during the long university holidays with a friend. We stayed in youth hostels a lot, but my brother had given me a little two-person tent for Christmas, and it certainly got plenty of use. We pitched it in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, as well as the occasional actual camping ground, and got quite used to sleeping on the ground. One time we got a lift into the middle of a forest with some forest workers, and then didn't see another vehicle for the rest of the day. But we found a gorgeous stream and camped next to it under a wide bridge where it was dry.

Another time we hiked for a day into the wilderness on beautiful Stuart Island (at the bottom of NZ) and camped there beside a little stream for nearly a week, until our food ran out, and then hiked back, intending to catch the ferry in the morning. We were salivating at the thought of the counter dinner we'd have at the only hotel in the small town of Oban, but when we got there, everything in the whole town was closed. The only camping ground was a mile the other side of town and we were tired and hungry, and it was getting dark, so we decided to find a bit of bush (wilderness) on the edge of town and camp there. We found a spot on a bit of a hill, set up the tent, dined on a couple of slices of stale salami and a little bit of semi-melted chocolate, and went to sleep. At dawn I was woken by the sound of a rooster crowing. I unzipped the tent and looked out. We had camped in someone's back yard!!! I guess they don't need fences on Stuart Island. So we furtively packed up the tent and hurried down to the town to wait for the hotel to open so we could get some breakfast. Here's a photo of me being brave and explorer-y (ie posing shamelessly) on a glacier, a few weeks later.

Like the rest of the Wenches I’ve had more than my share of exciting trips both abroad and in the UK, and I love to travel when I can. I’ve driven across Africa, Iceland, Jordan and Costa Rica in a Land Rover (on separate occasions!) as well as sailed to the Arctic and the Sea of Cortes, but one of my favourite trips was to see the Northern Lights. It was about 20 years ago and we flew to Tromso in Northern Norway in February. We’d been prepared for the cold and packed loads of woolly jumpers, but hadn’t been prepared for driving in snow and ice. The Norwegians were taking it all in their stride, but as we hopped in our tiny hire car and drove off through a six foot high tunnel of snow, we were more than a little nervous.

We found our way safely to the island of Sommeroy where we had booked a cosy chalet on the beach for a week. We’d been assured that this was one of the best places to see the Northern Lights and confidently settled down to wait. On the first night there was thick cloud and the darkness was impenetrable. On the second night it snowed, which was very pretty but not what we were looking for.

With some disappointment we headed into the town the next day to drown our sorrows with a mug of hot chocolate at Unna Tun’s Northern lightscafé. We had quickly discovered that this, the only café on the island, was both a very warm place to thaw out after a walk and also did the best cooked breakfasts. We got chatting to some of the locals who solemnly assured us that the Northern Lights would be out that night and not just that, they would appear at 8pm precisely. We thought they were making fun of us but nevertheless we went out and lay in the snow at five to eight, and at eight o’clock on the dot, out came the Northern Lights, rippling in billows of green, red and purple across the sky like the finest gauze curtain. It was the most magical experience.

The following night we were out again at eight but we had to wait until ten past before the Lights came out and put on a magnificent show for us again. Even now I can remember how cold it felt lying on my back in the snow, staring up at the sky where the Northern Lights seemed to drift so low you could almost reach out and touch them.

The following day was the last of our holiday and to celebrate we climbed the only mountain on the island, more of a hill really. There was a superb view out across the sea and not a soul for miles around. Then just as we were reaching the summit, there was a strange rumbling noise, some of the hillside slid away to reveal a concealed metal door and a soldier in uniform popped out. It was like a scene from a James Bond film. He apologised that we weren’t allowed to walk there as it was a NATO installation and escorted us politely back down the hillside. Just another extraordinary experience to add to our trip!


Ww shorelineWhen I was a kid we’d all pile into the woody-sided station wagon, (five kids) and drive off to a cabin on the Chesapeake Bay. I'd get car sick. We’d go out on the Bay in a little Boston Whaler, all of us stuffed into life jackets. I'd get seasick. We’d watch the sea birds and catch a surprising number of fish. On our way back to the cabin we’d buy fresh corn at a farmers’ market and bring my mother our flounder to bread in corn meal and serve for dinner.

 Some days we’d sit and fish off one of the piers that stuck out over the water of a slow tidal river running into the estuary. Boats would come and go and we’d all go over to admire everybody’s big sports fish catch, which aren’t really much good to eat but we respected their bragging rights. We’d buy cokes at the bait and tackle shop, and  run out to ease in our lines with chicken necks tied to them and scoop up the crabs that had come to nibble.

Best of all, we’d go out to Scientists’ Cliffs on the Chesapeake and collect fossils. This was before the communities living on the cliffs above got stroppy about folks splashing along the shoreline.

 Scientists’ Cliffs and Calvert Cliffs and the other communities down there are built at the top of huge cliffs. Doomed cliffs, slowly Ww tooth eroding into the sea, full of fossils. My sisters and I would go splashing along the waterline in tennis shoes. I'd get sunburned. We'd bring home bucketfuls of broken seashells and Miocene shark’s teeth and, once, a shark's vertebra.

These can be BIG shark’s teeth, some of them the size of the palm of your hand.

 Good times.

What are your tales of memorable trips? We'd love to hear them – the good, the bad, the funny, the emotional – they are all special! And if you are travelling mainly through reading at the moment, which trips have you enjoyed reading about?

Buy that art!

Wench Peep-at-Christies-GillrayLet's say you're a rich man in 1800. You own a house in town and have an estate in the country. Maybe you own manufacturies or mills. You buy expensive clothes and horses and carriages. You shower jewels upon your womenfolk. But at the end of the day, you still have more money than you know what to do with.

You could gamble, of course. Many men and women managed to subdue a rising fortune by gambling it away.

But let's say you had no taste for throwing money away on the green baize table. Let's say you go … collecting. Collecting art, in particular. Where? How? What? Inquiring minds want to know.

In the mid Eighteenth Century there was the 'Grand Tour' of course. A fashionable quest for sophistication had long sent rich young Englishmen off to the Continent to buy Old Masters and Etruscan pots and a good many well-made fakes. They carted them home to decorate the Old Manse.


he looks amiable, doesn't he?

The art auction achieved its modern form around this time. Rather than the older practice of offering a collection of artworks for sale, each with its proposed price —. this really sounds like a tag sale, doesn't it? — the collection was open for view, and then on the day of sale the auctioneer offered successive artworks and invited bids. Auction madness was born. Much more satisfying, really.

By the end of the Eighteenth Century London housed some of the major auction houses we know today, like Christie's, Phillips, and Sotheby's, as well as others now vanished like Skinner and Dyke, Langford, (with auction rooms at Covent garden,) and Bryant.

Here, to the right, is a portrait, by Gainsborough, of James Christie in 1788, rich in years and honors after two decades and more in the auction business. Sotheby's Auction House is slightly older, but spent the Regency specializing in "scarce and valuable" books rather than paintings. For instance, the library Napoleon carried with him into exile was sold through Sotheby's after his death. Phillips Auction House is solidly Regency, founded in 1796 by the senior clerk at Christie's. I'm sure there is a story behind that.

By the time the Grand Tour was made inconvenient by those troublesome sans culottes in France, the art valuables of France and later the Continent were making their own way to England, fleeing the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars. Wench catalogue henry phillips

Here's what theWench terburgh the music lesson notice of an impending auction looked like. It's the upcoming sale of drawings belonging to the "Count de Carriere", (count of the stone pit or quarry,) probably the nom d'exile of Etienne Bourgevin Vialart, comte de Saint-Morys.

And here is a typical painting that fled France on the wings of Revolution. Ter Borch's The Music Lesson. It was sold by its French owner through the auction house of Skinner and Dyke in London in 1795. Two centuries later, we find it in California where the weather is better, but it's far, far away from the Netherlands where it was painted.

Our Regency auction would have looked a little like this. The examination of the paintings before the sale is up above. Then the auction itself, below.Click on the picture for a closer look.  Notice how many women there are among the bidders, but the main action next to the picture for sale is men.

Wenches Microcosm_of_London_christies auction


The Art of Creating a Deliciously Desirable Hero

603px-Poussin,_Nicolas_-_The_Nurture_of_Jupiter_-_Google_Art_ProjectCara/Andrea here, I'm delighted to kick off our regular blog schedule for the new year by welcoming back my good friend and Honorary Word Wench Miranda Neville. Nt only does Miranda craft delightfully smart and sophisticated Regency romances, but as those who have read her books know she also draws on her expertise in period history and art to create a wonderful ambiance of the era. In her latest book, which released just last week, she found inspiration in an unexpected place . . . so without further ado, I shall hand over the pen and let her tell us all about it!

NevilleColorSmallerMiranda here,
For The Duke of Dark Desires, I used a remarkable creation of the Regency period. One of London’s best art collections is also relatively unknown, probably because it’s inconvenient to reach by public transport. Dulwich Picture Gallery opened in 1817 and is the oldest public art gallery in England. It houses an extraordinary collection of Dutch, French, Italian and Flemish Old Masters including Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael, Poussin, and Fragonard, as well as English masters like Gainsborough and Lawrence.

Dulwich-picture-gallery-interiorThe existence of this great museum in a fairly obscure part of south London arose from the career of a pair of eighteenth-century art dealers, Noël Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois. Commissioned by the King of Poland to assemble a ready-made collection of masterworks, the paintings were left on their hands when Poland (not for the first time) succumbed to more powerful neighbors. Failing to find a buyer elsewhere (both the Tsar of Russia and the British government turned it down), the collection was bequeathed by Bourgeois to his old school, Dulwich College, with the stipulation that it be displayed to the public.

640px-Dulwich_picture_gallery_at_sunsetNot only was it the first public gallery in England, it was also the first purpose-built gallery in the world. Sir John Soane, one of the most interesting architects of the day, designed the building, including revolutionary roof-lanterns that provided natural top light ideal for viewing art. Adjacent to the gallery space, slightly macabrely, is a mausoleum for Bourgeois, Desenfans, and the latter’s wife.

Before he inherited the title, Julian Fortescue, the hero of my latest book, had to work for his living so he followed his passion and became an art dealer. Though still considered trade, it wasn’t unusual for gentleman to do a little genteel wheeling and dealing, tracking down European treasures to meet the voracious appetite of wealthy Englishmen for works of art. (Sir William Hamilton, Emma’s husband, is a famous example.) Revolutionary Paris offered rich pickings as aristocrats fled the country.  Such a story is at the crux of the plot of The Duke of Dark Desires. I also incorporated elements of the Dulwich history into the book, as well as the long, fruitless effort to establish a national collection, which succeeded only with the foundation of the National Gallery in 1824. Best of all, I was able to raid the art galleries of the world to assemble Julian’s collection.

DDDI don’t want to give the impression that The Duke of Dark Desires is a treatise on art history. This is the short blurb:

Julian Fortescue never expected to inherit a dukedom, nor to find himself guardian to three young half-sisters. Now in the market for a governess, he lays eyes on Jane Grey and knows immediately she is qualified–to become his mistress. To find the man responsible for the deaths of her family, Jeanne de Falleron enters the Duke of Denford's house as governess Jane Gray. As she discovers more clues about the villain she seeks, she's faced with a possibility more disturbing than her growing feelings for the duke: What will she do if the man she loves is also the man she has sworn to kill?

I’m always pleased when I can tailor real historical events to fit my novels and I especially enjoyed the inspiration of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I will be thrilled if I encourage a few people to visit this gem. Incidentally, there’s an excellent café!

I am a keen museum goer and I love discovering new ones. Do you have a favorite “lesser known” museum or historic site? Perhaps there’s a hidden gem in your area. If so, I would like to know. One commenter will be chosen at random to win a copy of The Duke of Dark Desires.

The Pastel Regency

 Finger_PaintingJoanna here:

I have fond memories of my early attempts at the visual arts.  Fingerpainting appealed to the squidgy, primitive side of me.  My big box of crayolas was a regiment of reassuring order.  And then there were poster paints.  So bright.  So vivid. Purple houses.  Green — I mean GREEN — fields.  Red cats.

When I run out of red, I use blue.
     Pablo Picasso

But settling down to talk about history. 

A-drawing-lad_nicolas-bernard C18

He's using a brass pastel holder.

Regency visual artists were about half way along the technological journey between the Neolithic Cave painters and one of those high-tech computer painting programs.  The fine work, the beautiful work, the Regency artists created was accomplished with the most simple tools and a limited array of colors.
Let me talk about pastels, because one of my characters, Pax, uses pastels.  I think of it as a portable and democratic art form in Georgian and Regency times.

Portraits in these readymade crayons offered tangible advantages over oil for the artist and the sitter: they required fewer sittings as there was no drying time; less paraphernalia; the materials were easily portable and the costs were lower.
      The Rise of Pastel in the Eighteenth Century, Margery Shelley

Pastelportraits ack the met

Just a whole bunch of pastels.  From the Met

They called pastels 'crayons' in the Regency — so confusing — because the waxy colored sticks we think of as 'crayons' wouldn't be invented for another century. 

These pastels were made by grinding natural white chalk — something you can pick up off the ground in places like Southeast England — into a fine powder. You mixed this with pigment and a binder like gum arabic.  You rolled the mixture into thin cylindrical sticks or long square sticks and dried them.  These were 'soft pastels'.  They were just super concentrated colors that transferred readily to the paper. 

A-drawing-lad_nicolas-bernard C18 detail

detail picture above

You had a potential for vivid color, but in a medium likely to crumble and come apart in your hand and smear.  So the pastel sticks were fitted into a sort of metal holder that protected them and provided control and precision for the artist. 

Conte crayon holder antique

A holder for conte pastels, about 6 inches long, brass




 Because pastels were intended to be inserted into a holder, they were thinner than the ones we use today.  A square shape gave them stability in the holder. 

ETA: I've not yet found an illustration of someone drawing with plain naked pastels, but it's very possible this is how it was actually done.  It's the way pastels are used today, so why not in 1800?





The first pencil, or rather crayon, that I possessed, was given to me by that right worthy cronie of my uncle Zachary, William Hogarth. It was one of those which may be still remembered by 'men of my standing'.  One end was of common commercial black-lead, the other red-chalk, ready pointed, and inclosed in a case of need.
     Literary Gazette and Journal, V 4, John Mounteney Jephson, 1820

Conté_crayons wiki

conte pastels and a holder.

 The most exciting recent innovation for our Regency pastel artist would have been the Conté crayon,  invented in France in 1794.  These were made from kaolin clay and graphite and fired in a kiln.  They were much harder than the chalk-based soft pastel sticks, and came in a smaller range of colors.  They could be sharpened.  They were good for tight, crisp lines and fine detail, and often used to lay down the first sketch on paper. 

Our Regency artist dealt with the fragility of those pastels by 'fixing' the finished art with dissolved Isinglass.  Isinglass, as you doubtless know — doesn't everybody? — is made from the dried bladders of fishes.  This was dissolved in alcohol and distributed in a fine spray of droplets over the paper. 

Which brings us to a consideration of color …

Constable's 1837 Tin box bladders white stone glass vial pwdered pigment

John Constable's oil paints, 1837

Oil paint came in only a few colors.  Oils were a couple decades from living in metal tubes.  In the Regency, they came in bladders that had to be pierced for each painting session.  They dried up quickly and had to be used fast, so artists didn't keep a wide range of colors handy about the atelier.  They mixed what they needed from ten or a dozen basics.

This to the left is Constable's paint box with its paint bladders.  About twelve of them. 

W reeves 1784 to 1789 paint box  from whimsies one time permissiontn

A nice 1794 paintbox with about a dozen blocks of paint and a couple of conte pastels




 Watercolor came in more shades. 

Regency watercolors looked surprisingly modern — little squares or oblongs with about the texture of today's watercolor, stamped with the maker's name.  The binder contained honey to give a softer, gummy texture. 

Since colors could be mixed as needed on a ceramic palette, even a very fancy watercolor box held a dozen or twenty colors.  Ackermann — yes the same Ackermann who made prints and produced Ackermann's repository — offered 68 prepared color choices in 1801.

(So many of these watercolors were so very poisonous.  I'm sure there's a good Regency mystery here somewhere.)

Pastels, on the other hand, came in myriad shades.  In the Regency these were available commercially and had been for a century.

As those students who attempt the art of crayon-painting may be readily supplied by the shops with every kind of crayon, we shall not enter into the manner of their preparation
     Pantologia: A New Cyclopaedia, John Mason Good, 1813

These dozens of prepared colors were not just convenience, but a necessity arising from the way the medium worked.  Pastels could be 'smudged' on the paper to create a blended hue or added in layers for subtle shading, but the artist had to start with a wide selection of excellent colors.

No great success in this mode of Painting can be expected, unless you have procured Crayons of brilliant tints, that are tender, corresponding with those in Nature.
     A Treatise on the Art of Painting, and the Composition of Colours, ‪M. Constant de Massoul‬. 1797

What startles and amazes is how few pigments they had. 

This is the palette they worked with, mostly from ground, natural stones:

Selection of Minerals

natural minerals used as pigments attrib Michael Price 











List of colors
Lead white
Ivory black
Naples yellow
Indian yellow
Prussian Blue
Yellow ochre
Red ochre
Rose madder
Burnt sienna
Brown madder
Cassel earth
Ultramarine blue


From this — everything.
All the art.  All the pastels and oil paintings and watercolors.   
I am so amazed.

Paint box with oils:  John Constable (English, 1776–1837), Paint Box, 1837. Tin box with
hinged lid housing eleven bladders, tied with string and filled with
pigment, a piece of white stone, and a glass vial of powdered pigment, 2
x 13 x 3 3/8 in. (5.1 x 33 x 8.6 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art
Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Michael Agee)


If you were a Regency artist, what medium would you have chosen?  What would you have painted?

Some fortunate person from the comment stream will win one of Joanna's books — their choice.