A short history of Oil paintings

The practice of Oil paintings is an ancient one which spread far and wide. The earliest discovery of Oil paintings was made in the Bamain Valley of the fifth century AD in present-day Afghanistan, where Chinese and Indian artists excelled in oil paintings in the nexus of caves in the region.

But oil paintings did not gain currency and prominence until it showed up in Northern Europe in the 15th century. Artist Jan Van Eyck of Netherland is often attributed to discovering the art style, having dabbled in oil painting techniques in his wood panel works such as the world-famous “Arnolfini “wedding portrait. Slowly oil paintings became mainstream throughout the rest of Europe, alternating tempera painting as the most popular medium of art expression. They also became highly synonymous with the art of the High Renaissance.

What initially made oil paintings standout is the vivid and vibrantly rich colours. Furthermore, they allow an artist to bend his work to his comfort, whims and requirements. A case in point is that Renaissance oil painting artists made use of oil paints in layers, working fat over lean (technique of addition of more oil to the pigment as the artist goes through each consecutive layer for suitable curing or drying in such a way that the final surface of the painting doesn’t crack) and dark to light. This style is generally known as indirect painting and helps an artist develop the painting surface from toned underpainting to finishing delicate glazes.

Major changes occurred during the Impressionist period when artists move around outdoor freely as oil pigments came in tubes. Artists, more often than not, painted “wet into wet”, mixing the paint right on the painting surface, without having to wait for a paint layer to dry before they start off to paint again. Nowadays artists often integrate one or both of these techniques into their oil art.

Any artist can enhance an oil painting’s appeal by adjusting its sheen, translucence and thickness. The paintings can also be used with varnishes, resin, waxes and other materials bringing out the variety and diverse possibilities innate as the artwork that has been around since time immemorial.