What is Oil Painting? A Definition & Brief History

what is oil paint

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Oil painting is an incredibly popular traditional art medium and has been used for centuries. Famous artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Rembrandt all used oil paint.

In this article, you will read all about what oil paint is, its evolution through time, its properties, what makes it unique, and why it’s so popular with artists.binde

Oil Painting Definition

Oil painting is the process of painting on a surface with oil-based paints. Oil paint is made up of colored pigment and a medium of drying oil as the binder.

It is a popular process of creating artwork, applying oil paint on a canvas or any surface.

oil paints definition
“The Mona Lisa” by Leonardo Da Vinci

Oil Paint in Art Through Time

The exact origin of this art form is unclear, although it is said to be invented around the 6th century.

oil painting definition
Buddhist murals from Afghanistan, circa 6th century

Painting with oils as an art form was popularized around the 15th century, particularly in Northern Europe, as artists started using oil on canvas.

Before this time, this type of paint was used to decorate outdoor surfaces like statues, frescoes, carvings, wood fittings, and wooden panels.

The composition of oil paints and the techniques used to create paintings with this medium haven’t changed much over time, although they have been refined by renaissance artists like Da Vinci.

oil art
“David with the Head of Goliath” by Caravaggio

The basic supplies needed to create oil paintings have also remained the same throughout time. Basic supplies such as brushes, canvases, oil paints, mediums, and solvents.

If you want to start using oil paints at home, you will need these basic supplies.

Oil Paint Properties

Oil paint dries slowly as compared to others, like acrylic paint. This longer drying time is due to using oil-based binders such as linseed or walnut oil in its composition.

This property helps in the execution of some techniques, such as blending and impasto, used to paint famous oil paintings by master artists like Da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh.

oil paint definition
“Almond Blossoms” by Vincent van Gogh

These paints can be made thinner by adding a drying oil, like linseed oil, to help get rid of the stiff paste consistency that some of them have.


Oil paints are an art medium used by classic and contemporary artists alike. They have stayed a staple in the fine arts world since the 5th century when they were first invented.

If you want to learn this valuable skill, read about it here. 

what is oil painting

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