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Modern Oil Painting

An analysis of modern oil painting must begin with a definition of what constitutes modern in oil painting. There does not appear to be a consensus amongst art scholars as to what ‘modern’ oil painting refers to. However, there is agreement that the term ‘modern oil painting can be used to refer to oil painting using techniques and methods that technological advances made possible.

These modern techniques and methods include:-

  • The use of oil paints in tubes as opposed to previous methods where the paint pigments were stored in tins and other convenient items. These happened in the 18th century.

  • The move from the traditional paint surface of a wooden panel to stretched canvas and on to greater variations such as such as canvas glued to a heavy board, canvas-textured paper, pre-stretched canvases and primed canvas in a roll. Stretched canvas didn't warp and split like wood. It was much lighter and did not need complicated bracing, so it could spread to cover relatively large, uninterrupted areas. Although its surface was not as smooth as wood, when properly prepared it received paint well. It enormously enriched the interaction between the surface and paint. In addition to supplying a woven tooth which provided a broken texture when paint was dragged across it, canvas enhanced the brush's spring through its springy resistance. This greatly increased possibilities that the painter could explore. Being light and easily moveable, stretched canvas brought another kind of freedom to Western painting, it was now possible to paint large paintings and if necessary move them to another location. It became possible to paint using easels, that is, upright stands.

  • The kind of paint thinners used. Modern oil painting has moved away from turpentine to the more user friendly odorless citrus thinner.

  • Greater use of synthetic paint brushes. Technological advances have greatly reduced the need for brushes derived from the fur of animals such as squirrels, pigs, ponies and so forth.

  • The use of varnish to preserve oil paintings by maintaining their luster and act as a protective layer.

  • Modern oil painting can also be used to refer to an evolution of new painting styles such as expressionism.

Oil paint, stretched canvas, and a variety of springy brushes became one of the most successful material combinations in the history of art. Other developments in modern oil painting include the emergence of new painting styles such as; expressionism, impressionism, formalism, cubism, surrealism, pop art and abstract expressionism.



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