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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil — especially in early modern Europe, linseed oil. Often an oil such as linseed was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body and gloss. Other oils occasionally used include poppyseed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. These oils confer various properties to the oil paint, such as less yellowing or different drying times. Certain differences are also visible in the sheen of the paints depending on the oil. Painters often use different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium.

Although oil paint was first used in western Afghanistan sometime between the fifth and ninth centuries, it did not gain popularity until the 15th century. Its practice may have migrated westward during the Middle Ages. Oil paint eventually became the principal medium used for creating artworks as its advantages became widely known. The transition began with Early Netherlandish painting in northern Europe, and by the height of the Renaissance oil painting techniques had almost completely replaced tempera paints in the majority of Europe.



Self portrait, at work, Anders Zorn, 1897

Traditional oil painting techniques often begin with the artist sketching the subject onto the canvas with charcoal or thinned paint. Oil paint can be mixed with turpentine, linseed oil, artist grade mineral spirits or other solvents to create a thinner, faster or slower drying paint. A basic rule of oil paint application is 'fat over lean.' This means that each additional layer of paint should contain more oil than the layer below to allow proper drying. If each additional layer contains less oil, the final painting will crack and peel. There are many other media that can be used in oil painting, including cold wax, resins, and varnishes. These additional media can aid the painter in adjusting the translucency of the paint, the sheen of the paint, the density or 'body' of the paint, and the ability of the paint to hold or conceal the brushstroke. These variables are closely related to the expressive capacity of oil paint.

Traditionally, paint was transferred to the painting surface using paint brushes, but there are other methods, including using palette knives and rags. Oil paint remains wet longer than many other types of artists' materials, enabling the artist to change the color, texture or form of the figure. At times, the painter might even remove an entire layer of paint and begin anew. This can be done with a rag and some turpentine for a certain time while the paint is wet, but after a while, the hardened layer must be scraped. Oil paint dries by oxidation, not evaporation, and is usually dry to the touch in a day to two weeks. It is generally dry enough to be varnished in six months to a year. Art conservators do not consider an oil painting completely dry until it is 60 to 80 years old.[citation needed]


Recent research supports the likelihood that oil painting was spread to the West from Afghanistan.[1][2][3][4]Buddhas of Bamyan#Oil painting discovery Surfaces like shields — both those used in tournaments and those hung as decorations — were more durable when painted in oil-based media than when painted in the traditional tempera paints.

Most Renaissance sources, in particular Vasari, credited northern European painters of the 15th century, and Jan van Eyck in particular, with the "invention" of painting with oil media on wood panel, however Theophilus (Roger of Helmarshausen?) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, On Various Arts, written in 1125. Early Netherlandish painting in the 15th century was however the first to make oil the usual painting medium, followed by the rest of Northern Europe, and only then Italy. The popularity of oil spread through Italy from the North, starting in Venice in the late 15th century. By 1540 the previous method for painting on panel, tempera had become all but extinct, although Italians continued to use fresco for wall paintings, which was more difficult in Northern climates.

Oil painting developed rapidly in Europe since 17th century. Each painter was skilled at some specific themes or styles; including genres such as religious, history, portrait, landscape, still life and others.


Flax seed is the source of linseed oil.

The linseed oil itself comes from the flax seed, a common fiber crop. Recent advances in chemistry have produced modern water miscible oil paints that can be used with and cleaned up with water. Small alterations in the molecular structure of the oil creates this water miscible property.

A still-newer type of paint, heat-set oils, remain liquid until heated to 265–280 °F (130–138 °C) for about 15 minutes. Since the paint never dries otherwise, cleanup is not needed (except when one wants to use a different color and the same brush). Although not technically true oils (the medium is an unidentified "non-drying synthetic oily liquid, imbedded with a heat sensitive curing agent"), the paintings resemble oil paintings and are usually shown as oil paintings.


Splined canvas
The Francesco St Jerome by Palma Giovane Circa 1590. A rare example of Oil Painting On Copper

Traditional artists' canvas is made from linen, but less expensive cotton fabric has gained popularity. The artist first prepares a wooden frame called a "stretcher" or "strainer". The difference between the first and second is that stretchers are slightly adjustable, while strainers are rigid and lack adjustable corner notches. The canvas is then pulled across the wooden frame and tacked or stapled tightly to the back edge. Then, the artist applies a "size" to isolate the canvas from the acidic qualities of the paint. Traditionally, the canvas was coated with a layer of animal glue (size), (modern painters will use rabbit skin glue) and primed with lead white paint, sometimes with added chalk. Panels were prepared with a gesso, a mixture of glue and chalk.

Modern acrylic "gesso" is made of titanium dioxide with an acrylic binder. It is frequently used on canvas, whereas real gesso is not suitable for that application. The artist might apply several layers of gesso, sanding each smooth after it has dried. Acrylic gesso is very difficult to sand. One manufacturer makes a sandable acrylic gesso, but it is intended for panels only, not canvas. It is possible to tone the gesso to a particular color, but most store-bought gesso is white. The gesso layer will tend to draw the oil paint into the porous surface, depending on the thickness of the gesso layer. Excessive or uneven gesso layers are sometimes visible in the surface of finished paintings as a change in the layer that's not from the paint.

Standard sizes for oil paintings were set in France in the 19th century. The standards were used by most artists, not only the French, as it was - and evidently still is - supported by the main suppliers of artist materials. The main separation from size 0 (toile de 0) to size 120 (toile de 120) is divided in separate runs for figures (figure), landscapes (paysage) and marines (marine) which more or less keep the diagonal. Thus a 0 figure corresponds in height with a paysage 1 and a marine 2 [5].


The Cliffs at Etretat, Claude Monet, 1885
A palette
Tubes of paint

The process of oil painting varies from artist to artist, but often includes certain steps. First, the artist prepares the surface. Although surfaces like linoleum, wooden panel, paper, slate, pressed wood, and cardboard have been used, the most popular surface since the 16th century has been canvas, although many artists used panel through the 17th century and beyond. Panel is more expensive, heavier, harder to transport, and prone to warp or split in poor conditions. For fine detail, however, the absolute solidity of a wooden panel gives an advantage.

The artist might sketch an outline of their subject prior to applying pigment to the surface. "Pigment" may be any number of natural substances with color, such as sulphur for yellow or cobalt for blue. The pigment is mixed with oil, usually linseed oil but other oils may be used as well. The various oils dry differently, creating assorted effects.

Traditionally, artists mixed their own paints from raw pigments they often ground themselves and medium. This made portability difficult and kept most painting activities confined to the studio. This changed in the late 1800s, when oil paint in tubes became widely available. Artists could mix colors quickly and easily, which enabled, for the first time, relatively convenient plein air (outdoor) painting (a common approach in French Impressionism).

The artist most often uses a brush to apply the paint. Brushes are made from a variety of fibers to create different effects. For example, brushes made with hog's bristle might be used for bolder strokes and impasto textures. Fitch hair and mongoose hair brushes are fine and smooth, and thus answer well for portraits and detail work. Even more expensive are red sable brushes (weasel hair). The finest quality brushes are called kolinsky sable; these brush fibers are taken from the tail of the Siberian mink. This hair keeps a superfine point, has smooth handling, and good memory (it returns to its original point when lifted off the canvas); this is known to artists as a brush's "snap."

In the past few decades, many synthetic brushes have come on the market. These are very durable and can be quite good, as well as cost efficient. Floppy fibers with no snap, such as squirrel hair, are generally not used by oil painters. Sizes of brushes also are widely varied and used for different effects. For example, a "round" is a pointed brush used for detail work. "Flat" brushes are used to apply broad swaths of color. "Bright" is a flat with shorter brush hairs. "Filbert" is a flat with rounded corners. "Egbert" is a very long "Filbert" and is rare. The artist might also apply paint with a palette knife, which is a flat, metal blade. A palette knife may also be used to remove paint from the canvas when necessary. A variety of unconventional tools, such as rags, sponges, and cotton swabs, may be used. Some artists even paint with their fingers.

Most artists paint in layers, which is simply called "Indirect Painting". The method was first perfected through an adaptation of the Egg tempera painting technique and was applied by the Flemish painters in Northern Europe with pigments ground in linseed oil. More recently, this approach has been called the "Mixed Technique" or "Mixed Method". The first coat (also called "underpainting") is laid down, often painted with egg tempera or turpentine-thinned paint. This layer helps to "tone" the canvas and to cover the white of the gesso. Many artists use this layer to sketch out the composition. This first layer can be adjusted before moving forward, an advantage over the 'cartooning' method used in Fresco technique. After this layer dries, the artist might then proceed by painting a "mosaic" of color swatches, working from darkest to lightest. The borders of the colors are blended together when the "mosaic" is completed. This mosaic layer is then left to dry before applying details.

The artist may apply several layers of details using a technique called 'fat over lean.' This means that each additional layer of paint is a bit oilier (it has more "fat") than the layer below, which allows proper drying. As a painting receives additional layers, the paint itself must become more oleo saturated (leaner-lower-layer to fatter-higher-layer) so that the final painting will not crack and peel. After it is dry, the artist might apply "glaze" to the painting, which is a thin, transparent layer, to seal the surface. A classical work might take weeks or even months to layer the paint, but the most skilled early artists, such as Jan van Eyck, sometimes worked more quickly using the Wet-on-wet method of painting for some details.

Artists in later periods, such as the impressionist era, often used this Wet-on-wet method more widely, blending the wet paint on the canvas without following the Renaissance-era approach of layering and glazing. This method (Wet-on-wet method) is also called "Alla Prima." This method was created due to the advent of painting outdoors instead of inside a studio. While outside, an artist did not have the time to let each layer of paint dry before adding a new layer. Several contemporary artists use a blend of both techniques, which can add bold color (wet-on-wet) as well as the depth of layers through glazing.

When the image is finished and has dried for up to a year, an artist often seals the work with a layer of varnish that is typically made from damar gum crystals dissolved in turpentine. Such varnishes can be removed without disturbing the oil painting itself, to enable cleaning and conservation. Some contemporary artists decide not to varnish their work, preferring that the surfaces remain varnish-free.


See also


  1. ^ BBC NEWS | South Asia | Rediscovering treasures of Bamiyan
  2. ^ Afghan caves hold world's first oil paintings: expert - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
  3. ^ Earliest Oil Paintings Discovered
  4. ^ [1] Science Magazine 2 May 2008
  5. ^ Haaf, Beatrix (1987), "Industriell vorgrundierte Malleinen. Beiträge zur Entwicklungs-, Handels- und Materialgeschichte", Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung 1: 7–71 

Simple English

, is the largest oil on canvas painting in the world. It is more than 42 feet long. (5.55 × 12.80 meters)]] Oil painting is a way of painting pictures with pigments (colours) that are held together by the medium of oil. The most usual type of oil that is used in paint is linseed oil. A picture that is painted using oil paint is called an "oil painting". Oil paint takes a long time to dry. Artists find this useful because they can keep working on the painting for a long time. People say that Leonardo da Vinci worked on his painting of the Mona Lisa for four years, even though it is not a very big picture. Oils paints, and oil paintings are often just called "oils" for short. If someone talks about "painting in oils" they mean that the painting is done in oil paints.



, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503-06]] No-one knows when oil paint was first used. Caves in Afghanistan are decorated with ancient paintings in paint mixed with oils. It is believed that this type of paint was used in other countries of Asia as well.[1].

It is believed that oil paint was used in Europe in the Middle Ages at first for decorating shields, because oil paint lasted better than the traditional paint of tempera when it was in the weather, or if it was roughly treated. In 1125 a writer called Theophilus (whose real name might have been Roger of Helmarshausen) gives instructions for how to make oil paint in his book called On Diverse Arts.

The Renaissance art historian, Giorgio Vasari, said that the art of oil painting came from Northern Europe and the person who invented it was the famous Flemish painter Jan van Eyck. Artists from the areas of modern Belgium and the Netherlands were the first artists to make oil painting their usual method of painting. This trend spread to other parts of Northern Europe. A famous painting called the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes arrived in Florence in the 1470s at a time when Leonardo da Vinci was young. Oil paintings at this date were usually done on wooden panels, in the way that tempera pictures were.

Another influence on oil painting in Italy was an artist from Sicily called Antonello da Messina, who had learnt to paint in oils. He travelled the length of Italy, from Sicily to Venice and did many small paintings including portraits and pictures of the Madonna and Child and Jesus. He influenced many artists, particularly in Venice. Giovanni Bellini, who was one of a family of well-known painters, was one of the first painters in Italy to paint very large pictures in oil paint. Artists from other parts of Italy visited Venice and soon the new method of painting spread.

By 1540, there were very few painters who still worked in tempera, the previous method for painting on panels. In Italy, many artists continued to decorate walls and ceiling with fresco. However, it was discovered that oil paint, unlike tempera was flexible (it could bend). This meant that it could be used on flexible surfaces like cloth without breaking away and falling off. Once painting on canvas (heavy linen cloth) became usual, artists were able to do enormous pictures. If the painting was too big to fit through a doorway, the artist could just roll it up.

Since the 1500s, oil painting has remained the favourite technique for artists who want to paint a picture that will last for a long time. The gallery below shows works by some of the most famous artists who have worked in oil paint. The famous artists of the 20th century are not shown here, because their works are copyright. Famous Modern artists who have painted in oils include Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Chagall, Kandinsky, Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Jackson Pollock and Brett Whiteley.

Technical information

Linseed oil, which is the main type of oil used for oil painting, comes from the flax seed. Flax has been an important crop for thousands of years, because linen cloth is made from it. This means that the oil for painting and the cloth for painting on both come from the same plant. To get different effects, artists would use mixtures of different oils. These include pine resin, frankincense, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and in more modern times safflower oil.

Artists use turpentine or mineral spirits to thin the paint if they wanted to make a fast-drying sketch that they can then paint over in more detail. The oil paint on the artist's brushes is cleaned out with turpentine after use. Modern chemists have made oil paints that can be used with water. This makes the clean-up job at the end of painting much easier and less smelly. Oil paint is usually dry to the touch in a day to two weeks, depending on how much oil and turpentine is in it. An oil painting is generally varnished when it is finished, which gives a slight shine to the surface and protects it. A painting should dry for several months before it is varnished. An oil painting is not completely dry until it is 60 to 80 years old. Varnishing used to be considered an important part of finishing a painting. Many modern artists do not varnish their pictures at all.

Linen canvas is the traditional surface for an oil painting. Cotton canvas can also be used, and is cheaper. The canvas must be stretched tightly over a frame called a "stretcher" and fixed into place with little tacks or staples. Then it must be treated with a sort of glue called "size". This is often made from boiled rabbit skins. Some artists like to paint on board rather than canvas.

Painting an oil painting

Before an artist can paint on a board or canvas, they must prepare it with a "ground" or "undercoat" of plain white paint. Then the artist can sketch a picture onto the surface using charcoal, or paint that is made thin and quick-drying with turpentine or mineral spirits. The artist often works in a brownish or bluish colour, to suggest where the "tone" (light and dark) will be in the finished painting. Then the colours and details are put on in layers.

The good thing about oil paint is that it can be used in all sorts of ways that most other types of paint cannot be used.

  • Oil paint can be put on thin or thick.
  • Oil paint can be almost as smooth as glass, or lumpy, bumpy or streaky.
  • Oil paint can be transparent so that the layers underneath can be seen, or it can dense so that it covers everything underneath.
  • Oil paint can be put on with brushes; it can also be scaped on with a knife, dobbed and smeared with fingers, rubbed on with a cloth, and squeezed onto the painting straight out of the tube.

Because oil paint can be used in so many different ways, it is better than any other type of paint for painting different textures.

The first European artists to use oils liked to make the surface very smooth. By the middle of the 1500s, some artists like Tintoretto were painting in a much streakier way. Rembrandt, in the 1600s, used the oil paint in all sorts of ways to get different effects. He used every technique that is described in the list above. After Rembrandt, there were always some artists who liked to work in a smooth way, and others who used many different ways of putting on the paint. This has continued through to Modern times.

A gallery of famous oil paintings

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