Pastels across Five Centuries at Lausanne’s Hermitage Foundation

Pastels Hermitage exhibit

UNTIL 21st of May, the Fondation de l’Hermitage in Lausanne gives us a privileged look at the use of pastels across five centuries of art. Some 150 masterpieces from public and private collections in Switzerland — from early Renaissance masters to contemporary artists — give us a captivating look at this exceptional technique.

Sometimes the word “pastel” when used in reference to the color of clothing, decor or makeup can conjure an image of the faded or wishy-washy for me. But seeing the effect of pastels in artworks, such as those now exhibiting in Pastels from 16th – 21st century at the Hermitage in Lausanne, I realize that pastel shades – even in the most subtle rendering — are anything but weak.

Subtle, soft and ethereal, yes, but also passionate and evocative as in Barocci’s Head of a Young Woman (below). And of course, in other instances such as Odilon Redon’s The Boat (above), pastel shades are the perfect medium to convey strength, solidity and vibrancy. There’s something very approachable, intimate and yet powerful about the effect they bring about…in me, at least. Do they have the same effect on you?

From the 1500s to present day

pastels hermitage museum
Federico Barocci, Head of a young woman, 1585-1590, charcoal, blood and pastel, private collection. Photo: Patrick Goetelen, Genève.

The Hermitage Foundation exhibition, set over the four floors of the stately former private villa of a Lausannois financier, begins with the earliest drawings retouched in pastel by Barocci and Bassano before it moves on to the golden age of portraiture in 18thcentury with works by Carriera, Liotard, and Tiepolo.

This exhibit then looks at the renewal of pastel techniques in the 19th century in landscape works by Boudin and Sisley, and also at the virtuosity of Impressionist figure drawing by leading artists of that movement including Degas, Manet, and Morisot.

Very much in vogue

Alfred Sisley, Geese on the edge of the Loing, 1890-1894, pastel on blue paper mounted on canvas, private collection. Photo: Eric Frigière. Sisley’s pastels of these everyday moments were especially popular with the purchasing public.

The turn of the 20th century brought great popularity for the medium, which the show highlights in works by the Nabis (Denis, Vuillard), in society portraits (Helleu, Tissot), and through the foreward-thinking explorations of Redon and the Symbolists. One room focuses on Swiss art in that period with works by Amiet, G. Giacometti, and others.

Finally, there are works representing the 20th-century avant gardes and their search for abstraction and modernity (Giacometti, Klee, Miró, Picasso), before it concludes with works from contemporary artists that culminates in a wall mural that has been specially designed for the event by young Swiss artist Nicolas Party. No era has been overlooked.

A combination of power and grace
Louis Anquetin, At the circus, 1887, pastel on panel, private collection. Photo: Maurice Aeschimann.

The Hermitage exhibition opened my eyes to the range, diversity, power and pure color that pastels can provide. Needless to say, that in artworks at least, they’re anything but wishy-washy.

Tip: Check the weather forecast for a sunny day and book yourself a table on the terrace of the L’Esquisse restaurant for some lunch or breakfast…the eggs benedict and English breakfast, while not inexpensive, are a treat. Purchase your tickets in advance and walk right in to see the exhibition when you’re done munching.

Hermitage Pastels
Pastels from the 16th – 21st Century
2 February to 21 May 2018
Hermitage Foundation
2, rte du Signal, CH-1000 Lausanne 8
T. +41 (0)21 320 50 01
Visits and activities
Practical Info: hours, fees, transport
L’Esquisse café-restaurant

Main photo caption: Odilon Redon, Drifting (The Boat), 1906, pastel on cardboard, private collection. Photo: Peter Schälchli, Zurich. Pastels can suggest strength and power as much as they can softer attributes.

One response to “Pastels across Five Centuries at Lausanne’s Hermitage Foundation”

  1. These Pastels are beautiful! The colours are so vivid. I’d love to see this exhibit. Thanks Elena, for sharing some of it.


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