Pastel Painting – a Rococo Beauty in the Eyes of a Painter

Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Curator, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery

First published in Art’s Memory – Layers of Conservation. Edited by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Maija Santala, Ari Tanhuanpää, Anne-Mari Forss. Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja (Sinebrychoff Art Museum Publications). Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2005

The pastel painting in the Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Art Collection entitled Countess Poaton shows a young woman with her face depicted in a slanting position, slightly inclined towards the right of the viewer. The front of her dress is decorated with a beautiful border of flowers and lace, with a lock of her dark-brown hair hanging freely over it. The hair forms small rosettes as if by chance. On top of the young woman’s white-powdered coiffure is a bouquet of small blue flowers. A blue scarf of the same hue directs the viewer’s gaze. This type of treatment of the subject is typical of portraits by Gustaf Lundberg, who repeated certain elements from one year to another, with only the features of the face altered in a slightly flattering fashion to resemble the subject.

Pastel paintings are at their best when viewed in a slightly subdued light and at a greater distance than usual. In some places the execution of this portrait appears clumsy at close range; the red of the cheeks is clearly striped and the skin around the nose seems exaggeratedly dark. Yet the bodice of the dress is executed with great finesse, showing the almost dream-like delicateness of pastel painting at its best. When the work is put in its presumed contemporary lighting, the viewer is taken by the beauty of the whole painting and the skill of the artist. It is the work of an artist who in an obviously explicit manner left out everything that is superfluous, while achieving his planned goal of a charming pastel painting.

Featured image: Gustaf Lundberg, Countess Poaton (date unknown). Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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