La maison du pastel !!!

BEGINNING OF THE 18th CENTURY, a time when working with pastels is very much in fashion. Artists such as Quentin de La Tour, Chardin and La Rosalba contribute to its notoriety, and the pastels produced in Paris are renown throughout Europe. During a trip to Paris between 1720 and 1726, La Rosalba notes in her diary that she recognizes them as the best.

a Cigale TV documentary (

The workshop ancestor to "La Maison du Pastel" exists since 1720. In 1760, it is situated in Versailles. It then moves to the rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, and in 1766, settles in the rue du Grenier St Lazare in the "Marais", the area of Paris dedicated at the time to commerce, where it will stay until 1912. 
Document PDF, 800ko.

During the 19th century, this "Maison", named "Macle", deals with all types of materials for artists, including pastel crayons. Around 1865, an old artisan is specialised in the manufacture of these pastels, which are of very high quality.

Henri Roché, a chemical engineer, chemist, biologist, gold medallist of the "Société de Pharmacie" and of the "École de Pharmacie de Paris", is also very interested in art. He is furthermore a former student of Pasteur, who works with pastel himself, and presents him to the old artisan, with whom he sympathises. He has regular contacts with Legros,Whistler in London, and then DegasChéret, etc, who submit to him their desires regarding pastel: having a wide range of solid colours, varied, harmonious, luminous, and with an adherence to the support such that no fixative is needed.

Henri Roché is more and more interested in the manufacture of the rue Grenier St Lazare, and is tempted by the adventure of pastel, dreaming of making it a prime painting technique. His Pharmacy being prosperous, but not fulfilling his love for research, he decides to sell it, and buys the old "Maison Macle". He works in close collaboration with the old artisan, who shares with him his traditional skills, while Henri Roché adds a few scientific processes to the manufacture. In 1878, Henri Roché takes the head of what becomes "La Maison du Pastel".

He decides to abandon the sale of other artists' material, and dedicates himself to pastel. Having started off with around 100 tints, he proposes in 1887 a range of around 500 colours. From then on, "La Maison du Pastel" sees a continuous growth, and Roché pastels become renown worldwide for their specific qualities.

In 1912, his son Dr. Henri Roché (MD) starts dividing his time between his medical practice and his father's work and research. The workshop is moved two blocks away from the rue Grenier St Lazare to the present shop address: 20, rue Rambuteau. They have there a large workshop, a laboratory, and a shop for the direct sale of pastels to artists.

In addition to pastel manufacture, father and son publish the « Cahiers de l’Artiste », a series of pamphlets touching the areas of interest to artists : fixation of pastel works, means of fighting mould, framing of pastel works, etc.

At the eve of the first world war, the colour range has been widely diversified, and more than 1000 tints are proposed to artists. Between 1914 and 1920, the activity of the workshop is interrupted, Dr Henri Roché being mobilised. When the activity starts up again in 1920, a great deal needs to be done. Dr Henri Roché shares his time between his medical practice and his father's workshop. In 1925, Henri Roché dies, aged 88, having dedicated the last weeks of his life to his pastel crayons.

Around 1930, keeping a workshop in the centre of Paris becomes very expensive, and the workshop and laboratory are moved to the suburbs of Paris. The shop however remains rue Rambuteau. Dr Henri Roch� continues his research, and proposes a range of 1650 colours. He has regular contact with artists such as Simon Bussy, Marcel Baschet, Vuillard, Roussel, Gernez, Paul Elie Dubois, Flandrin, Brisgand, Guirand, de Scevola, Dufrenoy, Paul Maze, Henri Buron, Lavrillier, etc. His frequent contacts with them allow him to further improve the quality of his pastels. In 1937, he presents at the "Exposition Internationale de Paris" a collection of pastels which obtains the Gold Medal.

Dr Henri Roché’s passion for research leads him to developing new products, always in connection with pastel. After ten years of research, « Pastelalo » is proposed to artists. This medium, which is neither gouache nor oil paint, can easily be spread using a brush. It is ideal used as a base for future pastels works, but can also be used as a medium in itself. Are also proposed to artists various types of coated papers, which rough texture is ideal as a base for using Roché pastels.

The second world war puts a complete stop to all activity. Between 1940 and 1945, Dr Henri Roché moves to the south of France, and sets up a small laboratory where he puts together and saves his most important documents. He manages to stay in contact with some of the artists, while taking up a medical practice.

When he moves back home in 1946, the workshop has been looted, occupied by the Germans, and bombarded by the Allied Forces during Liberation. It is in such a poor state that one could wonder whether "La Maison du Pastel" is not a relic of history. But in a burst of energy, despite his age and a weak health, he sets back to work, taking a medical practice in Eastern France to finance the restoration of the pastel activity, while Mrs Henri Roché and her three daughters start-up the workshop again.

The laboratory and essential documents and samples have been preserved. The first trials are conclusive, and the manufacture starts up as soon as quality material becomes available.

After Dr Henri Roché's death in 1948, generations of skills and manufacturing secrets are carefully maintained by his wife and daughters, who work together at perpetuating the family tradition, keeping close to the artists' desires in order to provide them with a high quality material. When Mrs Henri Roché dies in 1975, her eldest daughter Huberte Rochétakes the head of "La Maison du Pastel", helped by her two sisters, until November 1999, when she dies at the age of 85.

In February 2000, the two sisters, Denise and Gisèle Roché, aged 80 years old, decide to transfer their skills to their great cousin Isabelle Roché, a young engineer. Fascinated by the history of "La Maison du Pastel" and impressed by the variety of its colours, she is since then dedicating all her energy to the conservation of this wonderful national and family heritage.

Document PDF, 140ko.

More to see:

Watch an interview of Isabelle Roché, made at the IAPS Convention 2007, Albuquerque, USA.

Adresse utile

La Maison du pastel
20, rue Rambuteau - 75003 Paris
Tél. : 01 40 29 00 67


La Maison du Pastel

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