Delicate and wispy, evocative, characterized by poesie, a potent combination of poetry and mystery: that's a good definition of pastels. Dry pastels are made of ground pigments with gum arabic acting as a binder. The medium has been used since the Renaissance; it entered Europe by way of the trade in minerals. In the 15th century Venice was a republic built on trade, the place where Europeans and Asians with something to sell would meet.
Artists experimented with those minerals, making colored crayons from Chinese Cinnabar to produce vermillion, Russian malachite for an intense green and, most precious of all, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan that produced a profound blue never seen before that was named ultramarine. Levy-Dhurmer used that blue to good effect for the night sky that is the backdrop for a bravura display of fireworks, seen here raining down from unseen heavens.
Venice is a city where the ephemeral nature of all things is always apparent. Solid objects are twinned with their. reflections, restless and shimmering, in the Venetian canals. Like Stockholm which is built (mostly) on a chain of islands, Venice comprises more than one hundred marshy islands off the Italian mainland.
Originally settled as the Roman Empire collapsed, refugees fled to the mudflats of the Veneto which offered a natural hideout from the northern invaders. The local fishermen taught the newcomers to navigate the byways of the lagoon and its islands. A city whose 'fortress' was the sea inspired a unique architecture that combined elements of Byzantine, Moorish, and Gothic (seen here in the lancet arches of the Doge's Palace). The short-lived painter known as Giorgione (1477 ?- 1510) was the emblematic artist of this liminal world. He was a master of elusiveness: to this day the meaning of his small oeuvre remains an enduring mystery.
More about Lucien Levy-Dhurmer.
Image: Lucien Levy-Dhurmer - Feu d'artifice a Venise (Fireworks in Venice), date unclear, pastel, Pettit Palais, Paris.