Oil Painting

Painting: the process, art, or occupation of coating surfaces with paint for a utilitarian or an artistic effect.


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A Short History of Painting.

Online Resources
The oldest pictures in the world can be found in present day Spain and France. Created with pigments gleaned from the earth, these representations of animals like bison and horses, were created on cave walls, not so much as decoration, but rather because the "artists" were driven by thoughts of magic and hunting.

The outlines of the images would have first been drawn as an outline with pieces of charred wood or flint. Then, by blending dry pigments from the land with plant juices, animal blood or fat, prehistoric man would color in his drawings to create paintings.

As time went on, people used painting both as a form of decoration and as a way to pay tribute to unforeseen forces.

Egyptian artists for example were commissioned to create paintings for temples and mastabas as well as to decorate manuscripts. Paper was made from papyrus reeds, "new" colors like green and blue were prepared from copper, and gold leaf became popular. Later, the Greeks painted their temples much the way we paint our homes today. The Romans copied the Greeks and went just a little further. In fact, objects that we would think of as paint boxes have been found by archaeologists. These kits contained up to eighty glass vessels (to hold pigments), a mortar for grinding and an oblong object much like a paint palette.

Still later, early monks prepared pigments in order to decorate illuminated manuscripts. By this time, vellum and parchment papers were used as were brushes made of hog and sable hair. The monks worked with tempera paint, which was essentially a mixture of powdered pigment and egg yolks or glue. As the Renaissance approached, a technique involving dry pigment on wet plaster (fresco) was also employed.

As time went on, monks began to mix pigments with oils and varnishes - and voila, oil paint was invented. Old Masters spent a great deal of time sharing their knowledge of paint with their apprentices who would grind pigment and prepare canvas (beginning in the 15th century). It was all very time consuming. Jean Van Eyck is credited with mastering the art of oil painting and his skill can be seen in works like Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife.

By the time of the Impressionists, new colors were being produced. Colors like cadmium yellow, ultramarine, cobalt blue, and alizarin crimson were very different from the brown and yellow tones of the Old Master paintings.


  • Pigment: Nearly all paint colors come from nature. Dirt, rock, plants, etc. are the raw material, which is ground down into what is called a pigment. This is then mixed with a binder to make it sticky (gum arabic - from trees, glue or egg yolk), and a medium to make it liquid (water, oil).

  • Acrylic Paint: A thick shiny paint made by mixing pigment with water and an acrylic base. Dries within a few hours.

  • Gouache (Poster Paint): A solid (opaque) water-based paint that dries to a matt finish.

  • Fresco: The word is Italian for "fresh". The technique involves painting with dry pigment on wet plaster. Fresco a secco involves painting on dry plaster.

  • Oil Paint: A thick, shiny paint made by mixing pigment with oil (usually linseed). Takes several days to dry.

  • Tempera: A water-based paint that may or may not be mixed with egg yolks (egg tempera). Historically, tempera was used for Italian panel painting prior to the late 16th century. Today, we associate tempera paint with elementary school classrooms.

  • Watercolor: A soft and see-through (transparent) paint made from pigment, water and gum arabic.

  • Features On Site
    Art Museums
    Featured Artist

    Horse (cave painting)
    c. 15,000-10,000 BC
    Lascaux, France
    Featured Artist

    Mona Lisa 
    Leonardo da Vinci

    Oil on wood, 1503-1506
    Musee du Louvre, France
    Featured Artist

    Fourteen Sunflowers
    in a Vase
    Vincent van Gogh

    Oil on canvas, 1888
    National Gallery, London
    Featured Artist

    Houses at L'Estaque Georges Braque
    Oil on canvas, 1908
    Kunstmuseum, Bern
    Featured Artist

    Frieze (detail)
    Jackson Pollock

    Oil, enamel and aluminum paint on canvas, 1953-55
    Private Collection


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    All rights reserved. Revised: July 02, 2007 .