Dictionary of pastellists before 1800

The Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 by Neil Jeffares is an art reference work on pastels by artists of all schools working during the eighteenth century or before. The print edition was awarded the Besterman/McColvin medal for the outstanding reference book published in the UK in 2006.

Pastels are "luminous and beautiful beyond all other pictures", wrote the English eighteenth century pastellist Francis Cotes, describing the sensual appeal of this special dust rubbed into paper which has enchanted connoisseurs ever since. But the history of pastels is one of compounded mistakes and misattributions: these intimate portraits, whose subjects range from dynasts to servants, have been neglected for the better researched areas of old master drawings and oil painting.

According to the critic La Font de Saint-Yenne (1747), « Le nombre des Peintres en Pastel est infini ». The task of reassembling their work is inevitably incomplete; but the ambition of the Dictionary is to establish a convincing body of knowledge to help identify and attribute works by major artists and obscure petits-maîtres, as well as by numerous amateurs, some noble and even royal, and a large number of female artists for whom the practical advantages of pastel made this the medium of choice. The Dictionary is an essential academic resource for art historians, a vital tool for collectors and dealers, and a treasure-trove for anyone interested in costume or social and political history.

Pastels from the French school account for more than half the Dictionary, representing most of the more important artists such as Vivien, Nattier, La Tour, Perronneau, Labille-Guiard and Vigée Le Brun. But there were other major pastellists, such as Copley, Russell, Mengs, Carriera and Liotard from the American, English, German, Italian and Swiss schools, as well as a host of minor portraitists, many of whom travelled extensively. The extent of the mutual influences between these schools can only be understood with the Dictionary’s integrated global coverage.

Online edition – Pastels & pastellists

Since 2008 this website has made available an online version of the Dictionary, regularly updated to include the latest available information. In October 2010 the site was renamed Pastels & pastellists (with url unchanged) in recognition of the amount of new material and the way in which it is presented. These additions are detailed below, and include information that would not be appropriate in a dictionary of artists. There is a film on Youtube explaining how to use the main features of the online version. The information contained on this site (which will continue to develop) is intended to constitute a complete prosopography of those involved in the art of pastel.

The core data remains the collection of articles about individual pastellists, with full lists of their known pastels. The structure of this part of the online version reflects as closely as possible that of the print version, using pages with the same layout, and employing the same conventions, abbreviations (designed to be intelligible to users of different languages) and system of attributions. These, and some recent enhancements to the attributional qualifications and symbols, are set out in ABBREVIATIONS.

The Dictionary uses a double-decimal numbering system as a unique digital object identifier for every pastel, taking the form J.123.4567; the first component refers to the artist in the alphabetical sequence of articles, the second to the sequence of entries within that article. As decimals, they are sequential but not consecutive; the number of digits is not significant, so that, for example, J.123.46 follows J.123.455 and precedes J.13.101. To locate a specific pastel by its J-number, use the search box on the home page to locate the relevant pdf (a Google search for the J number within quotes will usually also be effective; you can add "site:pastellists.com" if too many results appear); once the artist article pdf is open you can just scroll to the specific entry in decimal sequence, or search for the number within the pdf (see below for how to do this more easily).

The symbol φ following an entry means that a photograph has been seen, while Φ means that the work is reproduced in the 2006 edition of the Dictionary. Please note that the photograph follows the relevant entry, which begins with the J. number; there are no captions in the work. The resolution in the on-line articles permits some enlargement of images on screen (Ctrl + plus). A number of high resolution images are available by clicking on larger image hyperlinks immediately underneath the low resolution thumbnail in the text (you may be asked to permit a new browser to open to enable the image to be displayed). Some further, much higher resolution images have also been added, viewable in a popup window using the Zoomify image streaming technology: these are also accessed by hyperlinks under the image in the pdf files: for example, Zoomify.

The articles on each artist are in Adobe PDF format (and require Acrobat Reader, which should be enabled to open within your browser). To view each article, go to the list of artists and click on the hyperlink. File sizes vary according to the extent of the artist's œuvre; links to larger files are indicated in bold type. Currently there are approximately 3000 articles (a number of these relate to artists whose work falls outside the narrow definition of pastel adopted in the print edition and who were omitted for reasons of space; see Demographics for a breakdown). These files include (as at May 2023) records of approximately 40,000 pastels, of which roughly half are known at least from photographs. To give an idea of the expansion of the Dictionary, the 2006 print edition included nearly 600 pages of artist articles (including anonymous articles); laid out continuously in the same format, the articles online in 2016 would occupy some 2150 pages. Note that while the length of the worklist is an indicator of the significance of the pastellist, the length of the introductory essay may not be: for example important artists who occasionally worked in pastel may receive brief treatment, with the reader encouraged to explore the bibliography for further information, while some more obscure figures are given exhaustive coverage where original research is presented.

The print edition included the following appendices of which updated versions are online:

  • Abbreviations, including an explanation of the symbols and numbering system

  • The bibliography, including full details of some 3000 publications referred to by author and date

  • The list of exhibitions, referred to by town and date; those before 1800 (approximately 250) are accompanied by extracts from contemporary criticism referring to pastels; bibliographic details of a further 1200 exhibitions since 1800 are also included

  • The index of sitters, comprising over 14,000 entries

  • A topographical index of some 1000 museums and other permanent collections

In 2015 three major additions were made to the site. Treatises reprints a large number of sources releating to the techniques of pastel from before 1800. The Florilegium includes a range of less technical literary and general texts relating to pastel. The Prolegomena provide an overall guide to the information on this site.

Pastels & pastellists includes a number of additional reference aids:

  • The iconographical genealogies (covering over 1400 families), which may be helpful in identitifying subjects as well as in understanding the processes of commissioning and patronage

  • A biographical index of approximately 1500 collectors which provides useful information about the evolution of taste

  • An index of some 450 engravers of pastels

  • An index of suppliers, including approximately 500 inventors, manufacturers, vendors and authors involved with the technical development of pastel, as well as some later copyists of 18th century pastels

  • An iconographical index of non-portrait subjects which help locate the small minority of pastels with mythological, religious, genre, landscape, or still life themes

  • An summary table showing the activity of the 300 most prolific pastellists (a Word document, which may be downloaded and sorted by various criteria)

  • A topographical index of pastellists' activity showing the towns where pastellists in the Dictionary have been recorded, including permanent locations as well as temporary visits

  • A discussion of the conservation of pastels, with information on their construction and the risks faced in display, storage and transport; practical tips on photography are also offered.

There are unavoidable overlaps between the indexes of collectors, suppliers etc., as many were concerned with pastel in various ways; cross-references are provided where necessary, but the search facility should be used. Short references to pastels owned etc. are not intended to be complete descriptions which will be found only in the main Dictionary entries.

Supplementary material

Conservation considerations mean that it is very difficult to mount loan exhibitions of pastels. However in 2011 the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an important exhibition of European pastel portraits with an excellent, fully illustrated catalogue. (To find the exhibits, search "New York 2011" above.) The exhibition was necessarily smaller than the celebrated Exposition de cent pastels which took place in Paris in 1908 or the Exposition de pastels français of 1927. The illustrated livrets provide an opportunity to conduct virtual visits to these older exhibitions:

Exposition de cent pastels (Paris 1908a)

Exposition de pastels français des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (Paris 1927a)

The panorama offers a personal selection of some seventy masterpieces in pastel drawn from public and private collections, set out to illustrate the historical development of the medium across various schools. An informal selection of images of pastels that have recently appeared may be found on the diaporama on the author's Twitter pages.

In relation to these virtual exhibitions and a number of other important pastels, a series of essays are being made available on this site.

Only a small number of pastels were dated by the pastellist. Many artists never signed or dated their work, including prolific pastellists such as La Tour and Hoare, while others, for example Cotes and Russell, signed and dated a high proportion of their pastels. It is possible to infer exact dates for some other pastels (although exhibition dates alone can be misleading). The development of individual artists' styles is often too uncertain to be a reliable basis for organising the main articles in the Dictionary. Chronological tables of specific artists' dated pastels can be found from chronology hyperlinks in the artists' index. Summary lists of dated pastels organised by year across all schools and artists can be particularly helpful in attributing anonymous pastels, as well as being of interest to costume historians. They can be accessed below (large pdf files):

Chronology 1627–1724 1725–49 1750–59 1760–69 1770–79 1780–89 1790–99 1800–20

Full details for each pastel will be found in the main entry for the relevant artist (the sitter's name or date for unidentified subjects suffices to locate each work).

The numerous materials on the site concerning Maurice-Quentin de La Tour are linked in this page, constituting a virtual catalogue raisonné. The 2022 edition of this monograph on La Tour (a compilation of individual fascicles as at August 2022, assembled into a single, 175MB, pdf; published as an online eBook by Anagallis Books (ISBN: 978-1-9163466-0-4)) may be downloaded from this link. Updates will continue to be made to the online fascicles, but the single document may be found more convenient for citation purposes, as page numbers in the 2022 edition will not change: "Neil Jeffares, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, 2022 ed., published online, p. x".

Besnard & Wildenstein's 1928 monograph on La Tour remains an important resource. A concordance to their numbers may be accessed under the link B&W Concordance. A concordance to La Tour pastels and related items in Saint-Quentin with LT numbers may be accessed under the link LT Concordance. A concordance to pastels in the Louvre and on external deposit may be accessed under the link Louvre Concordance.

Further pages will be added to the site from time to time.

Search Pastels & pastellists

The whole site, including the online edition of the Dictionary, can now be searched using the box above or by going to the Search page. Structured text searches can be used to locate specific works, e.g. those sold at auction on a particular date or included in an exhibition; they can also be used in place of a concordance for standard catalogues raisonnés, for example, by searching R&L n, L&R n, B&W n etc. J. numbers may also be searched in this way, and should also enable pastels to be located within the Dictionary using standard internet search engines. Note that results occurring in pdf files normally appear in a two-stage process, with snippets allowing the selection of the pdf files, which when opened present a further list of specific occurrences. You can simplify this process using settings on your browser to open the pdf in a new browser tab rather than as a pdf. For example, in Firefox, go to Settings, type "pdf" in the search bar, and select "Open in Firefox" as the associated action (instead of "Use Windows default application" which is likely to have been selected.

Reviews of the print edition

"Perfection and utter comprehensiveness can never be fully realized, but Neil Jeffares has come about as close as humanly possible. His care and diligence shine through this work and do real honor to the artists he memorializes. Any research library should seriously consider acquiring this title; there is no other like it, nor is there likely to be for a very long time." - Jeffrey Weidman, Art Libraries Journal (vol. 32/1, 2007)

"…essential for any scholar interested in pastel painting and ancien régime portraiture of the noble, ecclesiastical, political and cultural elites. It also makes a profoundly important contribution to the history of portraiture as a whole." - Robert Oresko, The Art Newspaper (February 2007)

"…sure to become a standard work." - Antje Matthews, British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies (vol. 30/1, 2007)

"…will remain the only undertaking of its kind for the foreseeable future…." - Rena Hoisington, The Burlington Magazine (May 2007)

"No one interested in the history of portraiture can afford not to have this comprehensive and admirably indexed production." - Francis Russell, Country Life (8 June 2006)

"…the first truly international survey of the genre…exponentially increases the number of pastel images included in earlier publications…an encyclopedic treatment…. Jeffares has produced a beautiful and functional publication whose value will not diminish over time." - Heidi Strobel, Eighteenth-Century Studies (vol. 40/2, 2007)

"This Dictionary...is a formidable achievement and constitutes a landmark in the subject. Such a publication was much needed and fortunately, in so far as the sustained and dedicated scholarship demonstrated by the author is matched by the highest standards of book production brought to the project by Unicorn Press, the result is a triumph in more ways than one." - Christopher Lloyd, Historic House (Winter 2006)

« …un événement de toute première importance…. Il constitue une base documentaire irremplaçable.  » - Lugar do Olhar Feliz

"…monumental, beautifully produced and illustrated…an indispensable research tool, which will revolutionize scholarship in the field." - Robert Snell, Times Literary Supplement (23 June 2006)

« Le dictionnaire des pastellistes est…une somme comme on en voit peu, un ouvrage absolument indispensable, pour les historiens d'art comme pour les marchands et les collectionneurs. Pour paraphraser Pierre Rosenberg, auteur de la préface, il faudra parler désormais du Jeffares, comme on dit le Thieme-Becker, le Bellier-Auvray ou le Lugt... » - Didier Rykner, La Tribune de l'Art (20 septembre 2006)

"… Neil Jeffares...tells us where attributions may be doubted and sitters are uncertain, and we trust him." - Norbert Lynton, The Art Book (vol. 14/4, 2007)


It is recommended that citations of the artist articles in this online edition are given following the form (replacing the artist's and file names in [ ] with that of the relevant article): Neil Jeffares, "[name of artist]", Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, London, 2006; online edition [http://www.pastellists.com/articles/[filename].pdf], accessed/update dd-mm-yyyy. The date of the latest update may be found in the footer of each pdf page. URLs for artist articles may be found on the Artist Index page, by right-clicking on the link and selecting "Copy link location". Essays and other material posted on the site should be cited as Neil Jeffares, "[title of essay]", Pastels & pastellists website [http://www.pastellists.com/Essays/[filename].pdf], accessed/update dd-mm-yyyy.

References to reproductions in the print edition may be given as: Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, London, 2006, p. 123, col. A, photo ii (or abbreviated to p. 123Aii). References should not be given to images in the online edition in this form, as the page locations of individual images are not invariant; instead the J. number should be cited as a digital object identifier: for example, the J number for the pastel on the cover of the the print edition of the Dictionary is J.44.299. An alternative which provides a direct link to the catalogue entry is to search for the J number in the main search box, and copy the link in the results page that takes you to the entry in the relevant artist article; this yields this url: http://www.pastellists.com/search.php?zoom_query=J.44.299+. (The method works best if you can search for a word or number that appears only once in the pdf; otherwise any earlier occurrences in the pdf will appear first.)

Some of the ancillary material in the Dictionary is in the form of lengthy pdfs, for example the index of collectors; to cite an individual entry, this example may be followed: Neil Jeffares, "Fromageat de Saint-André", in Biographical index of collectors, Pastels & pastellists website [http://www.pastellists.com/Collectors.pdf], s.v. Fromageat, accessed dd-mm-yyyy. An alternative which provides a direct link to the material is to search for the collector's name in the main search box, and copy the link in the results page that takes you to the Collectors' index; this yields this url: http://www.pastellists.com/Collectors.pdf#search=%22fromageat%22.

Since 31 March 2011 the site has been permanently archived on the British Library's UK Web Archive, which includes regular snapshots of the site from which earlier versions may be consulted online [NB the site is currently suspended after a cyber attack]. Additionally since 16 February 2024 the site has been archived by the New York Art Resources Consortium, with snapshots accessible here. The release date which appears in the footer of the pdf should be checked before citing.

Acknowledgements, amendments, errors and omissions

As H. W. Fowler noted in 1929, "A dictionary-maker, unless he is a monster of omniscience, must deal with a great many matters of which he has no first-hand knowledge." Or, as Diderot put it in the Encyclopédie (XII, p. 680, s.v. Plagiaire), "Les Lexicographes, au moins ceux qui traitent des arts & des sciences, paroissent devoir être exemts des lois communes du mien & du tien. Ils ne prétendent ni bâtir sur leur propre fonds, ni en tirer les matériaux nécessaires à la construction de leur ouvrage. En effet le caractere d'un bon dictionnaire tel que nous souhaiterions de rendre celui-ci, consiste en grande partie à faire usage des meilleurs découvertes d'autrui: ce que nous empruntons des autres nous l'empruntons ouvertement, au grand jour, & citant les sources où nous avons puisé." This Dictionary is however far more than a simple compilation, and presents original research intermingled with previously known facts. Published sources are acknowledged in the article bibliographies and literature entries (and in more detail in footnotes in the essays). To the lengthy list of individuals who contributed unpublished information to the print edition of the Dictionary (listed in the Foreword) might be added hundreds more to whom I am grateful. Data protection rules as well as space constraints and functionality mean that it is impracticable in the Dictionary to set out all these private communications or other information or views that are relevant to attributions or identifications.

The database of images and other information relating to pastels executed before 1800 is kept current, and details of any errors or omissions from the Dictionary will be welcomed. Please also report any broken links, missing or defective files; other users will benefit from this.

The author is happy to provide further information or to give his views on any pastel before 1800 (without charge but subject to the note below) on an informal basis. Please state if you are the owner or are contemplating purchase, and please give me all the information you already have (e.g. date of sale, provenance, inscriptions, dimensions etc.). One high resolution image of the whole pastel is better than dozens of low resolution snaps, but please also include an image of the frame and of the back. All information received from private collectors will be treated in confidence. Any images supplied may be used in future editions (whether in print or electronic form) unless specifically restricted. To contact the author please e-mail info@pastellists.com

Print edition

Published 30 April 2006
Now out of print

Introduction: Pierre Rosenberg, de l'Académie française

Hardback, 304x220x50 mm, 3.1 kg, 758 pages, 5000 reproductions (2000 in colour)

ISBN: 978 0 906290 86 6

Published by Unicorn Press

La Jeune Dame en robe bleue, the cover image, is a portrait of an unknown sitter by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803), pastel on paper, 622x510 mm, signed and dated 1780 (private collection).