Painting with Dust

By: Franny Brock, Ackland Graduate Intern 2017-18, Ackland Art Museum

Léon-Pascal de Glain, French, 1715-1775, Young Woman in a Blue Dress with Muff, 1745

As a specialist of eighteenth-century French art, my job has been particularly exciting and rewarding this semester because of the Ackland’s new exhibition, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. This installation epitomizes so many of my research interests, including the work of women artists, collectors and collecting, drawing techniques, amateurism, and display of works on paper. Some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition—the ones that I keep returning to over and over again—are the pastel portraits. The velvety texture and rich colors of these works drew me in immediately, but their contradictory classification and contested status in the eighteenth century keeps me coming back for more.

From a curatorial perspective, chalk pastel is fascinating because it occupies a place somewhere between painting and drawing. In the eighteenth century, pastels were considered a form of painting, comparable to oil. In 1701, Joseph Vivien (1657–1734) was the first artist accepted to the French Académie as a “painter in pastel.” The vibrant colors, high degree of finish, and size of pastels make them similar to paintings. However, works in pastel are done on paper and are extremely fragile. Like drawings, pastels are light sensitive and need to be stored in the dark most of the time (which makes it even more thrilling that we have eight on view at the Ackland right now). Anyone who has worked with chalk pastels knows that keeping the medium adhered to the paper is also a problem. Pastel is crumbly and dusty; it wants to lift off its support, especially when moved or jostled. Many strategies for fixing pastel to paper were invented in the eighteenth century.

Chalk pastel is made of powdered pigment and a binder, such as gum arabic, then formed into sticks. These pastel sticks can be applied directly to paper as a dry medium or mixed with water and applied with a brush. Pastel became popular in eighteenth-century France, especially for portraiture, because of its ability to mimic the tones and texture of skin, hair, and clothing. Gault de Saint-Germain’s Portrait of a Boy demonstrates how different colors of pastel were blended or “stumped” (sometimes also called “sweetened”) to create the luminous skin of the young man’s face. The powdery surface of this work reflects diffuse light off the facets of tiny particles of pigment, creating a sense of white light and a velvety texture.

Anna Gault De Saint-Germain, Polish, c. 1760-1832, Portrait of a Boy, 1788

Although both men and women artists used pastel, the medium came to be considered “feminine” because it relied on surface attributes such as color and shading, rather than the more masculine-associated line and structure, to define subject matter. Social critics also linked pastel to women’s cosmetics because of its physical similarity to powered rouge. While there was wide popular appeal for pastels in eighteenth-century France, this comparison emphasized the perceived artificiality and delicacy of the medium in the minds of its critics.

The pastel works in Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment show a range of techniques, including blending and the use of mixed media, and because they were never varnished, these pieces have retained their original brilliance. I encourage you to take the opportunity to view these pastels before they return to the dark to rest.


Drawing at the Ackland

By: Kelly Chandrapal, Learning Resources Coordinator, Ackland Art Museum

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732-1806: “Standing Young Woman Seen from Behind.” Black chalk on off-white antique laid paper. 380 x 258 mm. The Horvitz Collection.

One of my favorite things about working at the Ackland Art Museum is helping UNC students and faculty look at drawings from our collection. Works on paper are highly sensitive to light and cannot be on view as often as paintings or sculpture. When classes or individuals want to use works on paper to further their research or studies, we can take drawings and prints out from storage and put them on display in our Print Study room for the duration of the class period. It’s pretty remarkable to view works up close, unobstructed by glass. The students are captivated, observing the variations in mark-making and the distinct characteristics of each artist’s hand. After seeing drawings from the Ackland’s collection, I am inspired to make a resolution to “draw more” this year.

Drawing is a way of seeing and thinking. It’s using your body and mind together to understand the world around you and visually articulate what you see. While we are often eager to take a photograph to capture our experiences, a camera comes between you and what you are looking at, distancing you from the art itself. Drawing requires you to slow down, look carefully, and connect with the work of art.

Here are some tips I recommend for drawing at the Ackland:

Get your materials ready. Bring your own sketchbook or borrow supplies from our front desk. To protect the works of art on display, pencils (regular or colored) and paper are the only art materials allowed in the galleries.

Select a work of art that interests you. What do you find interesting about it? Maybe it’s the texture of a carved sculpture, the movement expressed through a figure’s body, or an intricate pattern. Draw the part of the work excites you most.

Get comfortable. Grab a gallery stool from our coat room, find a bench or sit on the floor. Find a spot away from foot traffic, where you can focus.

Look closely at the work of art. Drawing from observation is more about looking than drawing. The lines you draw should be more about what your eyes are telling you, rather than how you think the drawing should look. Look back and forth frequently between the artwork and your paper and let your hand follow where your eyes take you. If you like a challenge, take it one step further, and draw without looking at your paper, creating what’s called a blind contour drawing.

Make lots of marks. Drawings are interesting because you get to see the lines, even the ones that are not exactly right. When starting out, make light, quick marks, applying little pressure to the paper. Practice making shorter lines and more lines. As you go along, experiment with different lengths, thicknesses, and speeds of mark-making.

Have confidence! Everyone can draw – it’s all about having the confidence to do it. Remember, you are not trying to make a perfect copy, instead you are trying to capture what you see. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the experience.

Learn from the masters. Come see drawings on view in our current exhibition Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. Featuring a variety of media – red chalk, graphite, washes, ink – the drawings highlight the artistic style of some of the most prominent artists of the period.

Other ways to draw at the Ackland:

  • Borrow a Close-Looking Kit from our front desk to take with you as you wander. Use the family-friendly materials and Art Cards to explore the art in different ways.
  • Come for a Drawing in the Galleries session, happening on the second Saturday of every month. Sessions are free and all skill levels are welcome.

The Ackland Museum Store’s new home

By: Alice Southwick

We completed our move from East Franklin Street into the Ackland Art Museum and opened on October 6, 2017 in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition Flash of Light, Fog of War, which was being installed in the galleries as we were setting up the Store. It was an exciting and energetic time, with all of us working under a deadline—lots of carpentry, painting, and ladders—and with a common purpose. We think the Store turned out great and, needless to say, so did Flash of Light, Fog of War!

Being located inside the Museum has proven to be a wonderful experience. We’ve always been a part of the Museum, but had not experienced being around all the teaching activities that are constantly going on and that has been amazing. We also have the opportunity to look at the exhibitions much more closely, connect with our Museum colleagues on a regular basis, and gain a better understanding of each of the many parts that work together to make the Ackland such a special place.

We are thrilled that many of you have come to see us in our new location. Your positive comments about the Store mean so much to us. Our time spent on Franklin Street was amazing and we miss our neighbors and look forward to visits from the regulars who used to stop by the store for greeting cards, a quick look, and even a brief chat. That said, we’re delighted for all the new connections we will make here in the Museum and hope we will see you soon in our new, sparkly, little Store. We cannot wait for you to see our wonderful greeting card “wall” and hope you love it as much as we do!  The best part:  You get to see amazing art at the Museum too!