The History of Art And The Curious Lives of Famous Painters

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The Origins of Oil Painting

The invention and refinement of oil painting techniques revolutionized painting. The origins of oil painting has been generally assigned to the year 1415 but it was being used by Northern European artists at least 150 years prior and in Asia for centuries. Jan van Eyck and Hubert van developed a stable varnish based on linseed oil as the binder of mineral pigments. The van Eyck's tinkering and perfecting oil paint formulas was a breakthrough for painters in Europe. 
According to author Ernest Gilliat-Smith, "For centuries artists all over Europe were vainly endeavoring to remedy this defect, and it was not until the opening of the fourteen hundreds that the problem was at last solved, but long before that period oil paint had been successfully employed for decorative purposes. We know that the sculptor Wuillaume du Gardin made use of it for his statues as early as 1341, and when Hubert van Eyck first came to Bruges at the close of the fourteenth or at the opening of the fifteenth century the practice seems to have been generally adopted. It has long been known that Jan van Eyck was an enlumineur des statues, and a document recently discovered in the archives of Ghent makes it quite certain that his elder brother Hubert followed the same calling; what more likely then, than that the idea should have struck him of painting his pictures with the same pigment with which he had been in the habit of decorating stone? But whatever may have led to his great discovery, certain it is, that the day on which he made it was the birthday of modern art."

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