Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Review: The Pastel Society 125th Annual Exhibition (2024)

I'm very pleased to say that this year I'm very impressed with the 125th Annual Exhibition by The Pastel Society. I've also been hearing lots of very positive comments by those who have visited in recent days.

The Pastel Society Exhibition on the afternoon of the Private View

It's very obvious to me that a lot of well directed effort has gone into making this a much better exhibition to mark yet another benchmark in its history. This is after all the oldest pastel society in the world which held its first exhibition in 1899!
  • It had 1300 entries - of which 366 were hung (28%)
  • There were excellent numbers at the Private View yesterday 
Private View: Speeches starting in the evening
- with Sarah Bee's very colourful artwork behind the speaker
  • BOTH the content and hanging of the exhibition is hugely better than the one which I criticised last year. 
    • It's much more colourful this year and looks all the better for it
    • each of the walls is well anchored by strong paintings - with the most obvious being the end wall of the West Gallery where Sarah Bee's artworks absolutely sing out across the entire gallery
    • artwork is grouped to very good effect - eg a wall of landscapes
A Wall of Landscapes by different Pastel Society members
    • There's a great diversity of artwork on show - from abstracted to hyper-realistic
Abstracted landscapes by Malcolm Taylor on the left
Hyperealistic still life by Ian Rawlings in the centre of the wall

  • The PS Annual Exhibition is also back in its "near the beginning of the year" slot which I tend to think of as being a very much better time for art exhibitions and sales - as there's absolutely no competition from summer weather and outdoor pursuits and holidays! 
    • However "last year" was only in May - just 8 months ago 
    • so the Society has also done very well to put on a second annual exhibition in this short timescale.
  • The pricing on the wall looks as if most have had a rethink about the range of prices that help promote sales in the current climate - although not all artworks did. I've been hoping to see some evidence that artists were becoming more sensible and this exhibition seemed to me to be the first one where pricing has changed. I still think the starting price should be £300. There's still a lot of scope for sales at the bottom end of the range.
Richard Rees, the President of the Pastel Society, told me yesterday that of the 1300 entries 
  • a third were monochrome
  • a third were portraits
I have to say that neither are reflected in the same proportions in the exhibition itself - although there's a good representation of both. Those entering next year's exhibition might like to bear this in mind.

Essentially when you have a surfeit of one particular kind of art, the competion for hwo gets to hang becomes that much more intenses. Which, to my mind why the monochromatic work is so strong in this exhibition. 

When grouped together - as most of the monochrome artwork is - in the North Gallery, it looks much more imposing and it's easier to see the kind of variations in technique achieved in different media - as well as perspectives on what sort of subjects suit monochromatic approaches. I'm always of a mind to think that the latter is plays a major role in developing a successful mono artwork. 

This is an essentially a good exhibition for all those who love their graphite pencil or charcoal.

North Gallery (middle room) has largely monochromatic artwork - in a variety of sizes

I've highlighted artwork I liked in my photos of the exhibition which I've published on Facebook. 

How to see the Exhibition

You can see the exhibition in person 

  • at the Mall Galleries
  • from 24th January to 10th February 2024 (but it's closed next week on Tuesday 6th February)
If you intend to take the train to London you will definitely need to check the strike dates and any changes. (see information page). There are numerous problems between now and 6th February - but it varies each day by area.

Or you can see it online at 
  • You can read the Catalogue for this exhibition on Issuu as well as get a copy at the front desk. This provides:
    • examples of the artwork - one from each member
    • listing of all the artworks exhibited with name of the artist, title of the artwork, media and price
    • information about the prizes
    • general foreword to the exhibition / commentary by the President - in which Richard Rees tackles five myths about pastels and encourages young artists
    • articles about past members - notably a past President Tom Coates
  • you can see it on the Mall Galleries new website - which is missing any option to group together ALL the artworks in a specific exhibition by one individual specific artist. A very MAJOR omission in my opinion. 
  • I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you visit the Pastel Society website if you want to see all the artwork by an artist grouped together in A to Z order by artist's surname (none of that laziness which increasing orders people by their first name!). 
    • for example, those who can ONLY view online can see the six really excellent artworks by Michele Ashby PS 
    • plus if you can visit the exhibition you can also see them all hung together with all the impact that provides - see the photo BELOW
    • and you can also see great images of these on her website where they are arranged vertically. It's quite a lesson in how best to display artwork!
Six still life artworks by Michele Ashby PS

Five artworks by Michele Ashby PS - hung in a line on the Mezzanine wall.
  • Ordering the artwork by artist in this way gives you a very good idea about 
    • how many non-members had artwork selected and 
    • how many each such artist had selected. It's typically one artwork - unless you're impressing the members where they may choose two or three.
  • what's also excellent about the Pastel Society website is that it also includes artwork from past exhibitions. This is VERY helpful for all those wanting to submit artwork to a future exhibition. Indeed I'd go so far as to say, the Pastel Society is doing very well in terms of entries from younger artists who enjoy dry media.

2024 Pastel Society Sealed Bids

You never know you may get a bargain!

Events and Demonstrations

The Exhibition also has a lot of events and demonstrations going on between now and the end of the exhibition. 
  • You can find out more about these at the Events Programme on the Mall Galleries website
  • Tomorrow (31stt January) is the themed Art Event evening from 6pm to 8:30pm This brings together two models for a themed drawing and painting session with Pastel Society members, including Roger Dellar, Jenny Halstead, Richard Rees and Simon Hodges.

All the exhibition events are in the East Gallery "Studio" unless otherwise stated

Prizes and prizewinners

The prizegiving was held in the evening this year and I had left before it started so I don't know who's won what. The usual news item by the Mall Galleries staff has also not appeared on the new website. (Maybe somebody forgot?) 

There are two new prizes this year. These are:


  • in memory of a former Pastel Society President (who died last year) 
  • for the best non-member work in the exhibition. 
  • to be selected and presented by Tom’s wife, the artist Mary Jackson NEAC RWS.


  • for the best work by an artist under 35. 
I do know who won the latter as the President showed me it. Thomas Gale has a large image of Crystal Back Alley on this website. He predominantly focuses on the urban environment and how the natural world bleeds into the spaces where allowed. His use of colour is a little hyped and somewhat arresting in a 'come hither and look more closely' way.

The Pastel Society President's Prize 2024
Crystal Back Alley by Thomas Gale

These prizes are in addition to all the regular prizes we have every year from our many generous sponsors

Candidates for Membership

Candidates for Membership Wall

The East Gallery includes the Candidates for Membership - one of which is Curtis Holder, who won Portrait Artist of the Year in 2020 using coloured pencils for large artworks (see Curtis Holder wins Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 7 Autumn 2020) and PAOTY Commission: Curtis Holder draws Carlos Acosta)

I bumped into Curtis who was arriving as I was about to leave and we had a quick chat and exchanged photos in front of his artwork! 

Curtis Holder
with his two drawings of two coloured pencil drawings
“The Costume Prop Maker” and “The Puppet Maker” in the East Gallery 

What was good to see was the diversity in styles of those putting themselves forward for membership. Choosing new members who do NOT use pastel like existing members makes for an increasingly interesting exhibitions of pastel art!

I particularly liked the colourful landscapes produced by candidate Jayne Perkins. It seems from her website that she found pastels after oil and watercolour and it's interesting how that influences how she constructs her landscapes.

Landscapes by Jayne Perkins


The Society accepts all types of pastel, chalk or crayon including soft pastels, hard pastels, oil pastels, ink pastels, water-based pastels, conté crayons or sticks, sanguine, and similar dry mediums including charcoal and pencil. Mixed media works are welcome where pastel or another dry media is the primary medium
You can review previous posts about Pastel Society exhibitions - from my archives BELOW. As you can see I've reviewed this exhibition every year since 2006!

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