Art Gallery Museum Painting Fine Art Artist Biography




Portrait of Richelieux by Champaigne


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.

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 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.

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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