Books on Oil Painting

General Comments:

In my book there is a bibliography near the back, with a list of books that are worth reading.

Many books in current circulation contain bad information and bad advice about oil painting, i.e., no mention that zinc causes delamination.

Examples of incorrect claims to look out for:

  • that varnish resins were in the Old Masters’ paints; subsequent testing has shown to be untrue.
  • that damar and mastic were in 16th century oil paintings, and we know now that damar was not used or known in Europe until hundreds of years later.
  • that sunflower and safflower oils were acceptable binders for oil paints; we now know these could reliquify years later and weep in paintings thought to have been long dried.

With old books on materials: Keep in mind that quite a bit of knowledge of materials has been gained in the years since those books were published, so they shouldn’t be taken as the last word on any subject.

Carefully Consider Your Sources

I’ll add that the knowledge and abilities that enable one to create impressive images is not the same as knowledge of the chemistry of oil painting materials or of the methods employed by painters who died long before we were born. For that kind of knowledge, one has to look to up-to-date science. Many high-level, highly regarded painters are still taking for granted the idea that the way they were taught long ago was and is totally correct, and thus they’re largely in the dark about information that has been brought out since then from the conservation science field, or they’re unwilling to accept it as true because it goes against what they prefer to believe. So how good someone’s paintings look is not necessarily a good gauge of how much scientific knowledge a person possesses, even where knowledge of painting materials is concerned. Neither is how successful someone is as an artist, or how much money a person’s paintings sell for, nor how many degrees he or she has, or awards he/she has won, or with whom one studied, et cetera. All of that is irrelevant where scientific knowledge is concerned. We have to continually re-educate ourselves on science because new discoveries are made frequently that show previously held ideas in a new light. This is what I try to do, and I bring what I learn in my ongoing research to my readers in this group to make it easier for you all.