The Pigment Analysis of 18th Century Pastel Paintings by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788) and Jean Valade (1710-1787)

Cecile Gombaud, David Buti, Johanne Marie Nielsen, Anna Vila , Kriste Sibul

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterResearchpeer-review


Pastel paintings are rarely studied unless they are unframed [1-3]. The conservation treatment of three French pastel portraits by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788) and Jean Valade (1710-1787) at the paper conservation studio of the National Museum of Sweden gave the opportunity to study the materials, with a particular focus on pigments, used by the artists in the 18th century. The artworks analysed consisted of a preparatory drawing and two finished pastels. The pastel pigments can also be found on the backboard of one pastel. The aim of the analysis was to learn about the materials used by two of the leading pastellists of the time and, in order to outline their colour palette, characterize the white filler and the pigments used as well as the binders.
The combination of photographic analysis, including UV and infrared photographs, together with different spectroscopic techniques allowed to characterize part of the artists’ palettes, both pigment and possible binding medium, and to have information about the paper support.
After a first non-invasive campaign by means of X-rays fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF), which allowed an overall elemental investigation of the different coloured areas, invasive analyses were conducted on a number of selected micro-samples through Fourier transformed infrared (FTIR) and Raman spectroscopy. 18th century pastels often consist of several layers of paper or parchment, canvas and a strainer or a backing board. As a result, the interpretation of the XRF data are often complicated requiring further specific analysis.
The results obtained combining photographic techniques, elemental and molecular analyses are shown here and deeply discussed and compared with literary sources, such as the contemporary treatise on pastel painting by Paul Romain de Chaperon (1732-1793) published in 1788 [4].
This project was supported by the Wiros Fund, Sweden.
[1] Norville‐Day, H. et al., The conservator, 1993. 17(1): p. 46-55.
[2] Townsend, J.H., The Paper Conservator, 1998. 22(1): p. 21-2.
[3] Sauvage, L. and Gombaud, C., CATS Proceedings II, 2014: p. 31-45.
[4] Chaperon, P.R., Traite de la peinture au pastel, 1788.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event4th International Congress Chemistry for Cultural Heritage - KIK-IRPA
Duration: 6 Jul 20168 Jul 2016


Conference4th International Congress Chemistry for Cultural Heritage
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