The history of oil painting is as old as the history of mankind itself as is proved by the grottos which have survived to this day to serve as a link between the present and the past. Our earliest ancestor, the cave man, took a lot of pleasure in expressing himself through artistic and detailed depictions by using substances found in nature to serve as paints. Thus, the first generation of oil paints which were mixtures of assorted animal fats, stains and earth came into being and were primarily used for decorating the walls of the caves with images reflective of that era. It has been rightly remarked that the art of a particular era is a true reflection of the existing circumstances of that era and in this respect these prehistoric depictions not only indicate the importance of art but also provide a deep insight into the psyche and circumstances of the ancient artists.
As the civilization grew and spread all over the world, the manufacture of oil paints was considered to be a part of chemistry and was considered to be at par with the process of evolving medicines. Oil painting was particularly popular amongst the oldest civilizations of southern Europe namely the Greeks, the Egyptians and the Romans who prepared oil paints from mineral pigments, bee wax, vegetable oils and tempera. The binders which were used during that era in conjunction with these oil paints were organic and rich in proteins since they were derived from animal sources like eggs, milk or animal glues.
This practice continued till the arrival of the Renaissance period in the 15th century when olive oil was introduced as being the medium for preparing oil pigments. Although this was readily accepted as a technique and soon gained wide prevalence, it had one major drawback which was extremely discouraging for artists. The drying time taken by olive oil-based pigments was very long which made oil painting an extremely tedious activity especially in case of figures. This prompted not only the artists but other elite men of the era as well to look for a more convenient alternative which would provide impetus to this form of art.
The honor of having discovered the new technique of oil painting involving the use of linseed oil during the 15th century goes to a Belgian painter named Jan van Eyck. Although the use of linseed oil was believed to have been prevalent among oil painting artists, it was van Eyck who was the first to experiment successfully with this technique apart from proving the usefulness of walnut oil and poppy-seed oil as well in generating dazzling oil colors. Since then innovation and constant evolution became the name of the game in the field of oil painting with famous artists like Antonello da Messina, Leonardo da Vinci and Rubens all contributing significantly towards improvement of this medium.
These oil painting techniques which were discovered centuries ago are still in vogue among oil painters all over the world and form the fundamentals of this form of creativity. Although modern times have resulted in the introduction of contemporary techniques, the traditional methods which were evolved in the past have remained steadfast through the echelons of time and are universally used by artists because of their variety, depth, durability and intensity.