A: Pastel has been in use for five hundred years. Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele, in the 16th century, followed by Venetian artist, Rosalba Carriera, who was the first to use it consistently. Edgar Degas, the most prolific user of pastel and its great champion, was followed by many artists who used varying techniques.
Degas’ subject matter included ballet dancers, laundresses, milliners, and denizens of the Parisian demimonde. The pure hues of pastel, plus its direct application, made it his preferred medium. Rosalba Carriera, a much-admired portrait artist, revolutionized the world of pastel by developing a wider range of colors, expanding pastel’s availability and usefulness. Mary Cassatt’s pastel portraits of children and family life provided her with a steady income while living in Paris. American painter William Merritt Chase used pastel to explore plein air painting. Pastel’s portability and rich colors made it ideal for outdoor landscapes and for capturing light.
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