Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's good enough for Degas...

Question: What do I have in common with Degas (image on left), Cassatt, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec? Answer: We all appreciated the vibrant colors and immediacy of sketching/painting with pastels. You may think me a little arrogant to put Atencio in the company of such greats, but in Paris in year 2005, I came as close to M. Degas as I possibly could.

First, I've been enchanted with pastels even before I started art classes. The response of such vivid colors on paper is a thing of beauty. I had two pastel goals while visiting the City of Lights.

The first goal was to go to the D' Orsay Art Museum. It is a beautiful old train station that's been converted to an art museum. It is known for an outstanding collection of Impressionists' art. I went there three times to savor the pastels of Degas, Lautrec, and Redon. The last time was to say good-bye and to plant a wish to see them again one day.

The second goal was to find the little shop that still made the pastels that Degas has used. I had read about La Maison du la Pastel on the internet (where else?) and wanted to find this out-of-the-way shop that was only open on Thursdays from 2-6 PM. I did find it but, alas, it was closed. There was a note on the door. I don't know French, but two-years of Catholic school Latin gave me a rudimentary idea of what was written. It seems the person in charge was next door having a tea.

Bold, American woman (me)walked into the bar and asked for Madam Roche. The waiter had no idea what I wanted. He kept trying to seat me. By a process of elimination, I found Isabelle Roche. Nothing like I expected. She was the young, college trained granddaughter of the chemist, M. Roche, who had worked with Degas to create the pastel sticks as Degas wanted them.

Madam Roche showing pastelsMadam Roche opened the shop, which looked and felt like a typical old Paris warehouse.(Photo on left) She asked what color I wanted. I said, "Gray." From behind her, she pulled out tray after tray of grays... blue gray, red gray, and so it went. I was enthralled and next asked for green. Out came tray after tray of every imaginable green.

I made the mistake of not asking the price. Madam finally brought me back to reality. She said, "These pastels are expensive," and rang up what I had so far. Mon dieux! I left in a financial daze with my carton of beautiful pastels wondering if Degas had experienced the same dazed feeling. Do you suppose we had that in common, too?

Click here to check out the process and colors of Roche pastels

Click here to read a short, interesting history of Roche and Degas


  1. I'm also a pastelists and love the colors. Thanks for sharing your experience of buying pastels in Paris. Elsa

  2. A great story. If only the use of the finest products could make us better artists. The truth comes when one places product to paper or canvas; talent makes the artist rise above artifice. Sheila

  3. Wow! Very Interesting!! Carol

  4. I'm impressed not only with your art but with your writing. This story about your search for the 'Degas' pastels personalizes you to the web visitor. Great ideas! Bravo! Mary S.

  5. You have a great writing style. Have you ever thought of writing for art magazines?

  6. I lived for a year in Paris in 1962, with my husband on a NATO scholarship and a new baby. Was not my best year, but did enjoy it. There were sand-blasting many of the buildings and the Algerians were setting off bombs here and there. Anna