Without a doubt the most popular medium for the modern art collector, painting has been a primary vehicle of artistic expression through the ages, from the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux to the vivid landscapes of Van Gogh. Today, artists are reinterpreting the techniques and subjects of this enduring practice while adding their own spin, making it an exciting time for collectors to explore the myriad possibilities of paint. Read on to get to know the medium that made the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci’s enigmatic Mona Lisa and Salvador Dalí’s famous dreamscapes, so that you can build your own painting collection with confidence.
Materials & Techniques
Painting fundamentally consists of pigment, a binder—such as oil, synthetic emulsions, even egg—and a solvent, which artists add as they work to make the paint thinner and easier to use.
Oil painting in its current form traces back to the fifteenth century. It refers to pigment suspended in an oil binder, typically linseed, used with solvents such as turpentine, mineral spirits, or natural oils. Oil paint is slow to dry and thus lends itself to detailed paintings with subtle blending. It also lends itself well to the “wet on wet,” or alla prima, technique of building up brushstrokes in one sitting—this process was especially popular with the Impressionists, who sought to capture quick “impressions” in plein air painting sessions. The medium is also known for the impasto technique, wherein thick layers of paint are applied, sometimes with palette knives, to achieve a relief-like effect.
Acrylics, or pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, were developed for commercial use in the mid-twentieth century. Due to its ease of use, requiring only water as a solvent, this newcomer quickly became the favorite of Abstract Expressionists, Pop artists, and street artists alike. Today, for example, artists often turn to this medium for acrylic pour and drop paintings, wherein the paint is poured directly onto the canvas; however, it can also be adapted to a variety of approaches that closely replicate oil.
When it comes to watercolor, the pigment is dispersed in a water-soluble chemical binder. On the artist’s end, the paint simply needs to be thinned with water. Watercolor is most commonly used on paper and yields delicate, translucent brushstrokes, while its close relative gouache (pronounced “gwash”) achieves a more opaque, matte finish.
There are more, albeit less common painting mediums to discover: Before the invention of oil paint, artists from Ancient Egypt through Early Renaissance Europe used tempera, an egg-based paint—it is more onerous than oil, but is still used by some contemporary painters exploring the history of their craft. You may also encounter encaustic painting, wherein the pigment is suspended in hot wax and applied to canvas or wood, a difficult technique that can yield visual depth and lightness.
Popular Styles & Subjects
Given its wide-ranging techniques and materials, painting is where styles and subjects as disparate as Abstract Expressionism, traditional landscape painting, portraiture, graffiti, and Pop art collide. The slow nature and luminosity of oil paint make it ideal for highly detailed subjects, and the medium is particularly prominent in the Hyperrealism movement today. Meanwhile, acrylic can be used in a number of forms, even spray paint, to produce works as varied as hard-edge abstracts and street art graffiti, which has emerged as a significant movement in its own right.
While abstract art dominated much of the twentieth century, there has been a remarkable resurgence of figurative painting in recent years, particularly among emerging artists examining their place in the canon of Western art. Despite its age, painting continues to be an ever-expanding frontier of aesthetic and thematic possibilities, making it an important medium today.
When it comes to collecting paintings, or any art, the most important factor is to buy what you love and what you can imagine living with for a long time. For the first-time collector, painting is a well-established and durable medium requiring little upkeep, making it a welcoming foray into the world of collecting fine art. And since painting encompasses a breadth of materials of varying cost, it’s a great medium to turn to on a budget, whether you’re looking for large-scale and oversized artworks or art for small spaces.
In terms of preservation, both oil and acrylic are resilient mediums that will typically only require regular dusting. However, we recommend displaying all paintings out of direct sunlight, as even the most durable pigments are subject to fading. For works on paper, which are subject to yellowing, consider framing them behind UV-protected glass to preserve the artwork long-term.
Whether you’re a patron of traditional oil, a fan of edgy abstracts, or a niche collector of encaustics, Saatchi Art offers a breadth of original paintings by emerging artists around the globe. For complimentary and personalized art advisory service, contact our curators to start building your painting collection today.
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