famous pastel artists

The 6 Most Famous Pastel Artists and Pastel Paintings in History

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Pastel painting experienced its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries and produced many famous pastel paintings. We have created an introduction to the most important artists of this time, and show you their most color pastel artworks.



History of Pastel Painting

Pastel painting has its origin in the late 15th century. During this time it was primarily used for sketches. The painting technique then experienced its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries. Pastel chalk was frequently used, especially for portrait painting. The artists of that time learned to appreciate pastel chalk as an independent painting medium. Color pastel art produces a unique look and feel and can create some captivating artworks.



Famous Pastel Artists and Pastel Paintings

There have been a number of famous pastel artists over the course of history. From famous oil pastel artists to soft pastel artists, many incredible artworks have been created. Below is a quick look at some of the most famous pastel paintings, and the people behind them.


Rosalba Carriera

Rosalba Carriera lived from 1674-1757, and her talent was recognized by her father at a young age and consistently encouraged by him. In addition to studying at the Accademia di San Luca and later with Antonio Balestra in Venice, she developed her artistic expression.

She initially used oil paint as a painting medium until the painter Christian Cole advised her to use pastel pencils. Her subjects were primarily Mary, Christ, and mythological figures. She made a name for herself as a soft pastel artist and was a much sought-after guest at many courts in Europe at the time. Rosalba Carriera went blind in 1746 after a long eye disease, thus her career as a painter was sealed. Her painting style, influenced by the Rococo period, was unique, characterized by grace and excellent color softness.

famous oil pastel artists
Girl with Parrot, ca. 1730 Sailko [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons


Maurice Quentin de La Tour

In the years 1720 and 1721 Rosalba Carriera ignited a real trend towards pastel painting in Paris. Maurice de La Tour studied at a Parisian art academy in 1719 and subsequently became self-employed. He was a gifted pastel artist and many of his pastel paintings are sought-after collector’s items.

He mainly painted portraits, and became one of the most famous pastel portrait artists. He was also allowed to paint portraits of famous personalities such as Louis XV and was given the nickname “Prince des pastellistes”, i.e. the prince of pastel painting. From 1750 he was an advisor at the royal academy of arts and was the court painter of the French royal court. He also trained various students and produced such famous names as Joseph Boze and Adélaide Labille-Guiard. A very famous pastel painting by Quentin de La Tour was his pastel chalk painting “Louis XV”, painted in 1748.

pastel artists
Ludwig XV Maurice Quentin de La Tour [Public domain]


Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas was probably one of the most famous representatives of pastel painting and has significantly influenced this style. He experimented with pastel chalks for a long time before he made them his main painting medium from around 1880. He also mixed these with other painting media again and again.

Among other things, he used watercolors and oil paints, which he applied in several layers, thus creating incomparable works of art. His pastel chalk paintings were highly sought after by collectors during his lifetime, and from 1880 onwards he sold some of his paintings for prices that were exorbitant at the time. To this day very high sums are offered for his pastel pictures, which are in the one to two-digit million range. One of his most famous paintings is the pastel painting “Dancers at the pole” from 1876.

famous pastel artists
Dancers at the bar, 1876 Edgar Degas [Public domain]


Adélaïde Labille-Guiard

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard had the idea to become a painter at the age of 14. Born in Paris, she came into contact with artists through friends of her father and learned portrait painting. Adélaïde later studied with the well-known pastel painter Maurice Quentin de La Tour, which was fashionable at the time. However, she was not really successful with her paintings at this time.

This was certainly due to the sheer mass of pastel paintings of that period. Nevertheless, she was able to earn her living from her paintings, and eventually became one of the great pastel portrait artists. At this time it was almost necessary to be accepted into the royal academy of arts to survive. However, only oil painting was recognized there, so Adélaïde Labille-Guiard had to learn it. She always fought for the right of women to be artistically active, and her project was a considerable success at the time.

One of her more famous paintings is the portrait of the painter François-André Vincent in 1783, who was her friend and introduced you to the art of oil painting.

soft pastel artist
Portrait of François-André Vincent Adélaïde Labille-Guiard [Public domain]


Joseph Vivien

In his youth, Joseph Vivien had the opportunity to learn painting in Paris from the famous painter François Bonnemer. In 1699 he was able to make a portrait of the Elector Max Emanuel of Bavaria in Brussels and lived for a time in Munich. Later he was drawn back to Paris, working for well-known personalities in Cologne, Münster, and Bonn.

He was one of the absolute pioneers of pastel painting, his pastel paintings were already highly sought after during his lifetime. He received awards from electors and was accepted into art academies. One of the most famous pastel paintings is the portrait of the Bavarian Elector Max Emanuel from 1706.

pastel paintings
Portrait of the Bavarian Elector Max Emanuel, 1706 Joseph Vivien [Public domain]


Jean-Étienne Liotard

Jean-Étienne Liotard was apprenticed to Daniel Gardelle and learned miniature painting there. He put his focus on portrait painting, which he executed with pastel chalk. He loved to travel and besides Greece and Italy, he also traveled to Turkey – where he lived for a while. He then lived in Vienna, where he received many commissions.

Later he was drawn back to Paris, where he made a name for himself as a pastel painter and could hardly save himself from commissions. He then moved to Geneva, where he pursued his art with short interruptions until his death. During his time in Vienna, he created one of his most famous pastel paintings, “The Chocolate Girl”, which was painted in 1744.

oil pastel artists
The Chocolate Girl, 1744 Old Masters Picture Gallery Dresden [Public domain]


There are some famous oil pastel artists from different eras of art history who produced some hugely respected artworks. Pastel is a medium that often doesn’t get as much attention as it should. The guide above on the most famous pastel paintings should help you to better understand the history behind this style of art.


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