A Handful of Dust

A selection of the Holburne's eighteenth-century British pastel portraits, from the exhibition A Handful of Dust. Georgian Pastels from the Permanent Collection 13 February to 18 September 2016).

To celebrate the Holburne’s centenary in its current home, this exhibition gathers together the best of the Museum’s delightful eighteenth-century British portraits in pastel. This mixture of china clay, plaster and pigments is little more than brightly-coloured dust, as fragile as a butterfly’s wing, yet when applied to paper the effect can be magical.

Pastel (also called crayon) was a favourite new medium in Britain between about 1730 and 1830. Softer and more versatile than chalk, it is made from a paste of kaolin, gypsum and chalk mixed with mineral or organic pigments and rolled into sticks. Like paint, it can cover a wide surface with bright, saturated colours, and can be manipulated to produce a variety of textures. It was generally applied to thick, slightly rough paper.

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