View Full Version : I saw a 1908 pastel portrait that was kept in the basement!

08-22-2005, 06:43 PM
Yep, just had to share this with ya.

I was at the frame shop today to get a mat cut for my last commission (a sphynx cat in colored pencil), and there was a woman there with a baby portrait that was dated 1908. Unframed, unmatted. It was on some type of linen. The colors were...spectacular still. The piece was gorgeous, I'm so disappointed I haven't learned how to use my camera inside my celly!

Dark green background, lovely, lively skin tones, but definitely had that vintage look.

The most amazing thing about it is the woman was the executor of her friend's will, and just found this IN THE BASEMENT when she was cleaning it out. We have really humid summers and very wet basements, living so close to the river. It was just wrapped in tissue paper and in a stack of photos, event programs and old mementoes. No artist id, it was dated on the back.

Just thought some folks might enjoy hearing how well pastels can keep!

Piper Ballou
08-22-2005, 08:59 PM
That is a remarkable find and story, thanks for sharing it with us....would love to see the painting

08-22-2005, 09:05 PM
Thanks for sharing...this is a very interesting and exciting story! It is wonderful to hear how the colors stood up to the test of time and humidity. What a find for that woman.

K Taylor-Green
08-22-2005, 09:19 PM
Wow, imagine that! Thanks for sharing, Robin. I'd sure love to see it.

08-22-2005, 10:09 PM
I'm glad the woman brought it to the frame shop. It sure does document the durability of pastels. I doubt an oil or water color treated that way would have survived. Learn how to use that cell phone camera girl. :)

08-23-2005, 11:30 AM
This reminds me of three portraits that came down in our family. One of my cousins has them now. It's years since I've seen them, but they were found in the attic or somewhere, unframed, just like this one.

Two were of my maternal grandparents as a young-married couple, about 1918. The likenesses were pretty good.

The other was a little girl of six, with dark hair, wearing a frilly pinafore. My aunts couldn't identify her, and they guessed that she was the first child in the family, who died before the others were born. It would have been lovely except there was some damage in the nose area. I don't know if the artist overworked it, or if it got damaged at some point and someone else tried unsuccessfully to repair it.

I don't recall any other damage. The portraits were on some kind of stiff card and it hadn't got bent or torn, and there were no damp spots.

This is intriguing because we have to go to such lengths to protect our pastel paintings. Just being out of the frame that long should have caused all kinds of problems. I wonder if these were really coloured pencil? As I've said, it's a long time since I've seen them.

My grandparents were definitely not the type of people who could afford to commission portraits of themselves. One of my aunts suggested they were done by an artist who was boarding with them at one time. That begs the question, why was an artist boarding with them? And who was this artist? Did he know something about the durability of pastel painting that we don't?

I'll be attending a family wedding next month. I think I'll ask my cousin if I can see those pictures again. And I'll have my digicam with me!

08-23-2005, 03:48 PM
De Gas had a secret formula fixative. another pastelist pressed his work, another used some kind of steam method for preservation. Perhaps some method of preservation was used on these. Or simply being wrapped in tissue and not in light or being jostled so there was no risk to the work. Pastels are actually pretty durable, more so than any other medium--if they are not subject to being rubbed. I have a piece done 40 years ago on velour. The glass broke and the piece just languished in my storeroom. It is still there, just as brilliant and true as the day I painted it, although the paper is a bit crunched in the corners. There is no pastel there so I may be able to steam press the velour and hang this painting once more.

08-23-2005, 09:11 PM
Neat story! You have to wonder, tho, whose forebear that baby eventually turned out to be and just imagine how thrilled they would be to have that portrait now, did they know about it. I always feel sad when I go to flea markets, etc. and see all the old old photos and paintings representing someone's family history. Surely the people in the old pictures were loved children and loving parents for the most part and now they're all but forgotten.

08-23-2005, 11:30 PM
what a fun story!! thanks for sharing it. i've thought of that too--we are sooo worried about acid free this, rag that, and you see this kinda thing and the work is perfect! sometimes i think we are waaay too worried of materials, and should just take some simple precautions, and paint our little hearts out!!

i've also thought of those old photos, etc. and why? did they loose contact with family, have a fued, or simply loose track of who was in that painting/photo? sad really, but i do love to see them and the way hair was worn and clothes too. fun thread!