In 1841 an American portraitist, John G. Rand, invented a method of packaging oil paint in flexible zinc tubes (see below). By then most artists no longer mixed their own oil paints, buying them instead from specialist colourmen.
John Goffe Rand patent, Improvement in the Construction of Vessels or Apparatus for Preserving Paint, & c., 1841 Sept. 11. John Goffe Rand papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Handling oil paint in the field wasn’t as easy as watercolour, but paint in tubes at least made it possible. Artists could now work en plein air on canvases destined (as watercolour sketches often were not) for public exhibition. Impressionist practice depended on tube-packaged paint.
Claude Monet (1840-1926), Poplars on the Epte, circa 1891. © Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh/Bridgeman Images
The sticky consistency of paint in tubes led to artists using stiff hogs-hair brushes that made textured brushmarks. These marks remained as an imprint of the moment and a record of the artist’s response — two qualities that gained particular resonance in the 20th century. Brushes could be dispensed with altogether: Patrick Heron occasionally drew with paint lines squeezed directly from the tube (see below).
Patrick Heron, 2 July : 1995, 1995. Credit: © Patrick Heron. Image courtesy of Waddington Custot Galleries. © The Estate of Patrick Heron. All rights reserved, DACS 2015.
Main image: Carl Larsson (1853-1919), Open-Air Painter, 1886. Courtesy Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden/Bridgeman Images
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