Friday, October 20, 2006


Painting, branch of the visual arts in which color, derived from any of numerous organic or synthetic substances, is applied to various surfaces to create a representational or abstract picture or design. This article traces the history of Western painting; for its development in other cultures, see cross-references at the end of this article.

Self-Portrait with Small Monkey Twentieth-century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is best known for her very personal self-portraits. In these works she depicts herself impassively staring at the viewer, often surrounded by references to the painful circumstances of her life. Kahlo also celebrated her Mexican identity in her artwork by using a painting style based on native popular art and by incorporating representations of Mexican flora and fauna as well as references to the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mexico, as seen here in Self-Portrait with Small Monkey (1945, private collection).Schalkwijk/Art Resource, NY

Painting Media and Styles Painting is the oldest and one of the most versatile forms of two-dimensional expression. There are as many different styles of paintings as there are painters. Some of the painting media used most often are oil, watercolor, tempera, gouache, fresco, enamel, and acrylic.
Watercolor The Reaper by Winslow Homer is a watercolor painted in the 1870s. The medium of watercolor facilitated Homer’s ability to achieve a naturalistic effect, and it was his medium of choice for creating magazine illustrations. One of the most important themes in Homer’s work was rural America.Art Resource, NY

Fresco The art of fresco painting requires skill because the paint must be applied quickly to the plaster while it is still wet. This fresco by Diego Rivera, the most prolific and best-known of the Mexican muralists, is called La Civilización Tarasca. The subject matter deals with the customs of the indigenous people of Mexico, in this case the dyeing and decorating of fabric.National Institute of Bellas Artes/Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Oil on Canvas French artist André Derain painted London Bridge (Museum of Modern Art, New York City) in 1906. He is one of the central figures of the group of artists called the fauves (French for “wild beasts”), a name never accepted by the painters themselves. Derain created simplified yet dramatic designs using unnaturally brilliant colors to convey a sense of emotion. Inspired by non-Western art, the fauves became known for their use of distorted perspectives, vivid colors, and unrestrained brushwork.© 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris./THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE

Enamel This picture is a detail of a Russian silver centerpiece crafted in Old Russian style. It was made in the late 19th century and features a type of enamel painting known as en plein. The area that was to be enameled was first covered with white enamel and fired. Then the scene was painted on top using powdered enamel mixed with oil paint.Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Ink and Pigment Laila and Majnun at School (1494) was painted by Bihzad, one of the great Persian miniature artists from Herat (now in Afghanistan). The flat, layered perspective shows the influence of Chinese landscapes. The gold background is unusual for a painting done before the 16th century, and the faces are drawn with a sense of grace not often seen in such work. The juxtaposition of inside and outside and the way in which parts of the picture spill over the borders is particularly notable.Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

In the course of its history, Western painting has taken several major forms, involving distinctive media and techniques. The techniques employed in drawing, however, are basic to all painting, except perhaps the most recent avant-garde forms. Fresco painting, which reached its heights in the late Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, involves the application of paint to wet, or fresh (Italian fresco), plaster or to dry plaster (see Fresco). Tempera painting, another older form, involves the use of powdered pigments mixed with egg yolk applied to a prepared surface—usually a wood panel covered with linen. Oil painting, which largely supplanted the use of fresco and tempera during the Renaissance, was traditionally thought to have been developed in the late Middle Ages by the Flemish brothers Jan van Eyck and Hubert van Eyck; it is now believed to have been invented much earlier. Other techniques are enamel, encaustic painting, gouache, grisaille, and watercolor painting. The use of acrylic paints (see Acrylic) has become very popular in recent times; this water-based medium is easily applied, dries quickly, and does not darken with the passage of time.

The Restoration of The Last Supper
This 1983 National Geographic article provides a brief history of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, discussing damages done to the painting over the last 500 years. The most recent attempts at restoration of the famous mural began in 1977 and have provided clues to the changes it has undergone and new insights on Leonardo's techniques. This most recent restoration effort was completed in 1999.

Over the centuries, different artistic methods, styles, and theories—ways of thinking about the purposes of art—have succeeded one another, only to appear again, generally with modifications, in other times. Thus, a method of painting thought to have been used by cave painters involved blowing pigments through tubes onto the cave walls; a somewhat analogous method is that of those 20th-century painters who dribble pigments from their brushes onto canvas. In the Renaissance, fresco painting on walls and ceilings largely gave way to easel painting in oils, but wall painting returned to popularity in the 20th century—for example, in the work of the Mexican muralists (see Mural Painting). The impulse to express intense emotion in art links painters as different as El Greco in 16th-century Spain and the German expressionists of the 20th century. At the opposite pole from expressionist attempts to reveal inner reality, there have always been painters committed to the exact representation of outward appearances. Realism and symbolism, classical restraint and romantic passion, have alternated throughout the history of painting, revealing significant affinities and influences.

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