Painting is the practice of applying paint or other media to a surface, usually with a brush

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  • Jackson Pollock, 'Yellow Islands' 1952

    Jackson Pollock
    Yellow Islands 1952
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1435 x 1854 mm frame: 1462 x 1945 x 41 mm
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1961
    © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014

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  • John Bettes, 'A Man in a Black Cap' 1545

    John Bettes
    A Man in a Black Cap 1545
    Oil on oak panel
    support: 470 x 410 mm frame: 750 x 628 x 100 mm
    Purchased 1897

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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower' exhibited 1798

    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower exhibited 1798
    Oil on canvas
    support: 889 x 1194 mm frame: 1092 x 1400 x 85 mm
    Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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In art, the term painting describes both the act of painting, (using either a brush or other implement, such as palette knife, sponge, or airbrush to apply the paint); and the result of the action – the painting as an object.

What we call art in all its forms – painting, sculpture, drawing and engraving – appeared in human groups all over the world in the period known as the Upper Paleolithic, which is roughly from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. In Europe, sophisticated and powerful paintings from this period have been discovered in caves such as Lascaux in France. In 1994 possibly even more astonishing works were found in the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche Valley, also in France. Cave paintings consist of pigments such as coloured earths rubbed onto the rock. In some cases they appear to have been mixed into a paste first. The paintings mostly represent animals but there are some human images.

Since then painting has changed in essence very little. Supports evolved from rock faces, through the walls of buildings, to portable ones of paper, wood, and finally cloth, particularly canvas. The range of pigments expanded through a wide range of earths and minerals, to plant extracts and modern synthetic colours. Pigments have been mixed with water and gum to make a paint, but in the fifteenth century in Europe the innovation of using oil (linseed) produced a newly flexible and durable medium that played a major part in the explosion of creativity in Western painting at the Renaissance and after. At the same time subject matter expanded to embrace almost every aspect of life (genres).