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. 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. (Consult the print edition for a full explanation of these and a description of the precise scope of the work.) Please note that the photograph follows the relevant entry; there are no captions in the work. The illustrations are low resolution thumbnails for technical reasons. A number of high resolution images are available by clicking on larger image hyperlinks immediately undeneath the low resoultion thumbnail in the text (you may be asked to permit a new browser to open to enable the image to be displayed). The symbol φ in the online articles means that a photograph has been seen, while Φ means that the work is reproduced in the 2006 edition of the Dictionary. The print version with its 5000 reproductions will thus remain a useful resource. Some parts of the print version, including the introductory essays, will not be posted.

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 2250 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 records of some 25,000 pastels, of which roughly 12,000 are known at least from photographs.

Supporting files in the print edition cover the following:

  • Abbreviations

  • The bibliography, including full details of some 2500 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 1080 exhibitions since 1800 are also included

  • The index of sitters, comprising over 10,000 entries

  • A topographical index of some 500 museums and other permanent collections

Pastels & pastellists includes a number of additional reference aids:

  • The iconographical genealogies (covering over 1000 families), which may be helpful in identitifying subjects as well as in understanding the processes of commissioning and patronage

  • A biographical index of approximately 1000 collectors which provides useful information about the evolution of taste

  • 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 index of engravers of pastels

  • An index of suppliers, including inventors, manufacturers, vendors and authors involved with the technical development of pastel

  • An summary table showing the activity of the 200 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

Supplementary material

Conservation considerations mean that it is very difficult to mount 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 fifty masterpieces in pastel drawn from public and private collections, set out to illustrate the historical development of the medium across various schools.

In relation to these virtual exhibitions and a number of other important pastels, a series of essays are being made available on this site. This part of the site is currently at an early stage.

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).

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. Note that results occurring in pdf files 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.

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 in the form: Neil Jeffares, "Louis Vigée", Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, London, 2006; online edition, 2010 [http://www.pastellists.com], accessed dd-mm-yyyy. Alternatively the date of the latest update may be given, found in the footer of each pdf page. Essays and other material posted on the site should be cited as Neil Jeffares, "La Tour, Le président de Rieux", Pastels & pastellists website [http://www.pastellists.com], 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).

Note that since 31 March 2011 the site has been permanently archived on the British Library's UK Web Archive.


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. The author is happy to give his views on any pastel before 1800 without charge. 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

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

Available worldwide directly from Unicorn Press
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For price and postage details, please go to www.jeffares.demon.co.uk. Click here for an order form (Adobe PDF file)

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).