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Oil Paint

Edgar Degas
The Dance Class, 1874
Oil on canvas
83.2 × 76.8 cm (32.7 x 30.2 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection

Oil paint is made by mixing pigments of colors with oil. Different from the quick-drying tempera paints generally used before the appearance of oil paint, oil paint remains wet longer and achieves very detailed and precise effects on canvas enabling artists to develop a painting gradually, especially when they change the color and texture or correct the form of the figure before the painting entirely dries.

It has been used in Europe since the twelfth century, but at the early stage, it was only used for simple decoration. According to some records by the Greek writers, artists at that time used oils very limitedly as a varnish to protect paintings from water, or as an alternative material to gold leaf. In the fifteenth century, as the public preference for Naturalism increased, oil paint was getting required and widely adopted as an artistic medium. Since the seventeenth century after the medium encountered with the Baroque painters who more precisely dealt with the contrast between the light and dark and constructed the dynamic composition in painting, oil paint became even more essential, preferred medium in painting.

Fat over lean

As many painters still follow, it is important to keep the ‘Fat over lean’ principle when oil-paints, which means that each additional layer of paint should contain the higher oil than the layer below to prevent a cracked and less durable paint film.


Linseed oil is the most prevalent drying oil for oil paints, but other vegetable oils such as poppy seed oil, walnut oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and soybean oils are also used as alternatives to the linseed for artists’ intention; for example, safflower or poppyseed or walnut oils are paler than the linseed oils therefore artists prefer to apply them to pigments when they intend to create more vivid whites.

“Oil-painting is a developed technique. Why go backward?”

Edvard Munch

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Figurative Art