New Year’s Day seems to be a good time to post a Blog. The last day of 2004 saw the arrival of the Pastel Society’s Newsletter – always an interesting though rather brief read. Roger Dellar, the Editor made reference to ‘Degas, Art in the Making’ - an exhibition currently on show at the National Gallery. Degas late pastels are a source of inspiration for anyone using the medium. He frequently used tracing paper as a support. He made use of it to create mirror images of the poses of his drawings of dancers. In this way he could create varied figure compositions from just a few simple poses. He seems to have resorted to this practice as his eyesight began to fail and he was no longer able to go to the ballet.
Degas also used canvas as a support for pastels – a practice which is hardly ever used today. Sickert, who studied with Degas, criticises this practice in his book ‘Open House.’ because of the risk of damage through vibration. He has a point if a traditional stretched canvas is used but the risk is greatly reduced if the canvas is glued to board.
There are valid creative reasons for exploring the properties of different grounds for pastels. Roger Dellar states the case nicely in his Editorial. ‘I find myself being more and more concerned with the paint surfaces, textures, mark making, and also the composition.’ Painting begins with the preparation of a ground suited to the subject being portrayed. The use of prepared pumice grounds and materials such as canvas offer choices which extend the range of the medium. Degas seems to have been aware of this and in his late pastels he produced some of his most exciting paintings.