Art Term

Bitumen

Bitumen is a naturally-occurring, non-drying, tarry substance used in paint mixtures, especially to enrich the appearance of dark tones

Sir Thomas Lawrence, ‘Homer Reciting his Poems’ 1790
Sir Thomas Lawrence
Homer Reciting his Poems 1790
Tate

Bitumen became very popular as a paint additive in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth. However, because it does not dry it eventually causes often severe darkening and cracking of the paint. This can be seen in the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Henry Fuseli, and Sir Thomas Lawrence or example.

Selected artworks in the collection