Art History  •  Movements and techniques

Oil Painting: The Wonder Paint

Oil painting is arguably one of the best known and most used painting mediums. Oil paint consists of suspending various pigments in a drying oil that acts as the binder. A variety of oils can be used as the binding agent, such as linseed oil or safflower oil. Each oil lends a different property to the quality of the paint and can affect the drying time or the yellow hue that it gains over time.

The use of oil paint can be traced back to Buddhist paintings from the fifth to tenth century, executed by early Chinese and Indian artists in western Afghanistan. However it gained popularity during the 15th century, where it quickly became the most commonly used medium for painting. What was popularised during the Northern Renaissance with Early Netherlandish painting then became popular with Southern European Renaissance painters, so much so that it almost completely supplanted tempera painting.

Lichtung, Dagmar VOGT, 2017, 90 x 140 cm

The artists of the early Netherlandish Renaissance such as Jan Van Eyck and Robert Campin popularised the use of oil paint and explored the versatility of the medium. Van Eyck played with using multiple layers and different glazes which allowed him to paint in an intensely illusionistic way with a focus on the minute details such as with his most celebrated painting, The Arnolfini Marriage. Oil became the primary medium of painting because of the versatility of the paint and was used in many of art history’s most notable works. Artists such as Vermeer, Rubens, Boucher, Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir and Picasso all employ oil paint in their paintings.

In a false paradise, Petrus BERGSTRAND, 2017, Acrylic, Oil pastel on Canvas, 80 x 116 cm

The process of painting with oil is often a lengthy one, given the slow drying properties of the medium. Traditionally, the artist might make a sketch or outline of the subject on the canvas in charcoal or thinned down oil paint. Oils can be mixed with a thinning mineral spirit which will change the textures of the paint, making it dry either more quickly or slowly. Oil paint has been so popular lately because of its versatility; it can be mixed with other materials like resin, wax and varnish in order to change the density of the paint, its translucency or its finishing gloss. Oil paint was also such a popular medium because of the durability of the paint and its ability to conceal the brushstrokes, essential when creating hyperrealistic or naturalistic paintings.

Beach, Kirstin MCCOY, 2018, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 60 cm

While paintbrushes are the most common tool for applying oil paint to the canvas, artists are known to use a palette knife or material rags. Because of oil paint’s slow-drying nature, the artist can adapt the painting as they go, building on existing texture or even removing an entire layer of paints and starting again. The key to an oil painting is canvas is that each new layer must contain more oil than the previous one to ensure that the painting dries properly, if this rule is not followed, the painting will eventually start cracking and peeling off.

#4, Haroutiun HAKOBYAN, 2016, Oil on Canvas, 140 x 105 cm

On Singulart, our international selection of emerging and established artists shows the incredible diversity of oil paint in contemporary art. Our painters who develop the medium of oil paint include Dagmar Vogt, Kirstin Mccoy, Haroutiun Hakobyan, Petrus Bergstrand, Sarah Key and David Daoud. Discover the unique versatility of oil paint with original abstract paintings, portraits and landscapes on Singulart.

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