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Many 19th century inventions played a pivotal part in the impressionist movement.

Hog Hair Brushes

The hog hair brushes that were developed in the 19th century facilitated the thick application of paint. The hog hair was placed snugly inside the metal attachment, which connected to the wooden wand of the paint brush. The durability and thickness of hog hair was perfect for moving thick viscous oil paint (Rewald, 1973). Large amounts of thick paint (that placed a relatively large amount of weight on the brush) could be easily supported by hog hair brushes. This allowed impressionists to easily create the impasto effect (Dunstan, 1983). Additionally, the pointed wooden end of the paint brushed dueled as a sgraffito tool, which impressionists used to scratch their paintings and create broken colour effects (see sgraffito tool below for more information) (The National Gallery U.K., 2012).

Hog Hair Brushes. These brushes have thicker bristles.

(Eckersley’s Art and Craft, 2012)

Portable Easels

An easel is an upright support used by artists to hold a canvas. There are two basic designs- the H Frame and the Tripod. Both designs can adjust to accommodate  different angles, are a collapsible for easy transport and storage (Rewald, 1973). The H frame design has four vertical posts and is structured around ninety degree angles, while the Tripod has three posts and easily enable vertical adjustments (Griffel, 1994). Easels were not always collapsible and portable. As easels became portable, it enabled impressionist artists to paint in various outside locations without hassle (Rewald, 1973). This perpetuated the painting of landscapes and led to a greater focus on the effects of light.

Portable Paint

Portable paint also allowed the impressionists to paint outside with ease, which was important for the same reasons that portable easels were important. In the mid-19th century pre-mixed paint in lead tubes was introduced; this made paint portable (The National Gallery U.K., 2012). Prior to the development of pre-mixed paint, painters mixed their own paint and stored it in animal bladders (Rewald, 1973). Therefore, pre-mixed paint made it easier for the impressionists to paint outside their studios.

Oil Paint

Oil paint consists of particles of pigment that are mixed in linseed oil (Dunstan, 1983). The emergence of oil paint in the 19th century helped enabled the use of various impressionist techniques. Prior to the emergence of oil paints, acrylic paint was used by almost all notable artists. Oil paint was thicker and dried more slowly (Rewald, 1973). This facilitated impasto and diffusion. Thick application of paint was a defining characteristic of impressionist art and therefore the emergence of oil paint was very important to the impressionist movement. Many impressionist artists, particularly Renoir, modified the viscosity of the oil paint with turpentine. This gave the paint a glossier look when it dried and helped to further emphasize the effects of light (Griffel, 1994).

Sgraffito Tools 

Sgraffito tools were developed for the purpose of scratching. Scratching helped create broken colour effects (Dunstan, 1983). The impressionist artists would use the relatively sharp end of the sgraffito tool to scratch the surface of the canvas, to reveal the paint underneath (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012). There are a variety of different sgraffito tools that create different effects. The most basic sgraffito tool scratches a simple, straight line into the canvas. The forked sgraffito creates a basketweave effect, and the wire loop sgraffito (with small wire loops on each end) creates variations of line width with a single stroke (Griffel, 1994).

A Wire Loop Sgraffito Tool

(Creative Coldsnow, 2012)

Think you know your stuff? Take the impressionist tools quiz!


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Impressionism was a 19th century movement in art. Impressionist artists distanced themselves from realism.

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Art and Technology

The technology of impressionism is two-fold. Firstly, the techniques employed by the impressionist artists were central to the movement. Secondly, the development of various artistic tools allowed the artists to employ a variety of impressionist techniques. See the 'Technology' page for more information.

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