The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Investigating drawing - Pastel

Detail from Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton and of Argyll

Detail from Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton and of Argyll

Pastels are simple to make, ground pigments; soot, chalk or earth are bound together with gum Arabic to form sticks, these can be used for drawing. More complex organic materials are used to make different colours, but basically the production of pastels has remained unaltered since the fifteenth century.

Popular in the eighteenth century, artists specialised in the 'pastel painting' of portraits, for example Francis Cotes. Paper would be collaged onto prepared canvases and used as a more durable support for these fragile works. The high content of chalk as a base for pastels means that it can be easily smudged and smoothed, producing convincing and subtle three-dimensional effects. Drawings need to be sprayed with a fixative in order to prevent further movement on the surface, but not for too long else the particular powdery and translucent quality of the pastels is deadened.

A selection of examples from the Gallery's collections


Next material

Do, draw and make!

Do, draw and make!

From building dens to food faces – enjoy our Playful Portraits activities and find out about some brilliant people!

Get Creative

Healthcare Heroes

Activities for children and families inspired by three healthcare heroes from our Collection.

Learn together

Learning resources

Downloadable and web based resources to support learning at home linked to art, history, citizenship and literacy.

Get learning