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MFA Acc. #: 20.164


A soft, blendable, pigmented drawing stick. Pastel chalks or crayons were first documented by Da Vinci in 1495 with a reference to their use by Jean Perreal in France (Shelley 1999). They became very popular for portraiture in the mid-18th century and were revived in the late 19th century. Pastel crayons are made with a finely ground pigments mixed with a small amount of a water-based binder, such as gum tragacanth or, from the mid-20th century, methyl cellulose. Many pastels contain pure pigments producing intense, deep colors; lighter colors are diluted with an inert filler (chalk, gypsum, talc, kaolin, etc.). Pastels produce a powdery, easily smudged drawing. To minimize smudging, some pastels are 'fixed' or secured with an aerosol-sprayed, thin layer of varnish called a fixative. Fixatives, however, tend change the optical appearance of the pastels.

See also oil pastel.

MFA Acc. #: 22.604

Synonyms and Related Terms

pastels (pl.); pastel (Esp., Fr., Port.); colored chalk; French chalk; pastel crayon

Other Properties

Binder is water soluble.

Hazards and Safety

Some organic colorants used from the 19th c. on may not be lightfast.

Additional Information

° M.Shelley, "Pastel" in Media and Techniques of Works of Art on Paper, New York University Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York, 1999. ° G.Monnier, "Pastel", The Dictionary of Art, Grove's Dictionaries Inc., New York, 1996.

MFA Acc. #: 99.664.114


Websites of pastel, pencil and marker manufacturers

Websites of pastel, pencil, and marker manufacturers

Websites of pastel, pencil, and marker manufacturers

Additional Images

Sources Checked for Data in Record

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966 Comment: p. 47
  • Reed Kay, The Painter's Guide To Studio Methods and Materials, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1983
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)