Nowadays, oil painting ( tranh sơn dầu ) is the preferred technique by artists all around the globe, not only for the versatility and its long-lasting quality, but also for the tradition that accompanies it.
Up until the 12th century, tempera paint was the most popular technique used by painters of the time, but that changed with the invention of the oil medium, which presented artists with a range of characteristics that would define Art History for many generations to come. However, historians maintain that oil painting was born a long time before that, dating as far back as the 4th century.
Ancient times civilizations already used animal fats combined with soil, charcoal, and chalk to produce the firsts cave paintings in the region of Bamiyan. Thanks to a research conducted by the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, we know that oil paint was used thousands of years before European artists started experimenting with the technique.
Troubled with drying time, painters sought a method that would allow them to manipulate their work as desired and add as many details as they wanted. So they came with the idea of mixing linseed oils with dry powdered pigments, grinding it until a paste-consistency was achieved.
Transparency, translucency, depth of color, and texture, are among the many exquisite characteristics that slow drying paint brought to artists’ studios. During the Golden Age of the Renaissance, the medium become widely accessible and a number of painters such as Botticelli, Picasso, and Bellini –whose aim was to create realistic images– emerged to establish the technique.
The oil medium was perfected over time, and its modern form was attained by Belgian painter Jan van Eyck, dating back to the fourteenth century.
The Baroque period was also highly benefited by the oil medium. The high concentration and the refractive qualities of the oil made it possible for artists to create complex compositions of light and shadows, aptly showcasing the wide range of human emotions.
Furthermore, the Impressionist Movement in the 19th century owes its name to the painting “Impression, Sunrise” by Monet. This came along with the invention of the oil tube by American portrait painter John G. Rand. The portability allowed artists to leave the confines of the studio, giving birth a revolution in spontaneity, effectively depicting reflections, silhouettes, luminous colors, and landscapes with greater precision.
By the 19th century, beautiful oil painting (tranh sơn dầu đẹp) was already distributed in mass production, and in addition to the tube, grinding each color by hand has long been outdated and diverse modern milling methods are employed to obtain quality colors. One of the most ground breaking quality is undoubtedly its permanence over time; the accumulated expertise and perfected methods now make it possible for artworks to withstand the damaging effects of time.
No new developments have been made since the 20th century, but the oil medium continues to inspire and intrigue art lovers from all over the world, as well as producing new artists that have adopted it as their favored technique to convey their visions.