Pastel portraits were popular in Europe, Great Britain and America during most of the 18th century, especially in the 1770s and 80s. They provided a more rapid way of rendering a likeness in bright colors that didn't yellow. This was a golden age for portrait painting, which exemplified the optimistic views of the Enlightenment: a sitter was not ashamed to show his or her wealth, contentment or character. Our self -assured subject looks directly at the viewer with piercing eyes, calm, practical, not likely to be fooled. It is an astounding accomplishment; we feel that this was exactly how he was. The artist allowed himself or herself (there were a number of excellent female pastel portraitists, particularly in France) to be subject entirely to what was seen and sensed about this strong, indomitable personality.
Baetjer & Shelly, Pastel Portraits. Images of the 18th Century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. (Inventory #: 26536)