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David and Art - Clouds

Innovations that came with industrialization influenced some of the most popular painting we know.

Driving into work the other morning about 7:20 presented me with a beautiful sight. I was coming into town, heading roughly northeast and the blue sky was awash with clouds of pastel pinks and purples. Then I turned southeast, and the entire sky changed to a riot of orange and yellow as the sun was coming up. I hadn’t seen a sky that pretty in a long time. The colors were so vivid and so variegated it made me think how nearly impossible it must be to capture such a scene with painting.

But artists have tried for a long time. Beginning about 1870 or so, particularly in France, painters began turning their backs on traditional subjects and the traditional ways of painting in studios and started heading outside to paint in the open air, as the style became called.

The challenge—or one of the material challenges to this at least—was that paint was difficult to transport. Most artists no longer mixed their own paints by this time but carrying a wide assortment of ready-to-use paints out away from the studio wasn’t easy. It was usually hauled around in glass tubes like syringes or, get this, in tied-off pig bladders that you would poke a hole in with a pin to get the paint out.

Of all the ways in which industrialization changed various elements of society, its effects on the arts may be the least obvious. But adventurous painters were greatly aided by numerous technical innovations that were inextricable from advances in manufacturing. The resealable paint tube made from tin was invented in 1841 and by the 1860s, when tin had become much less expensive, was being mass produced. It revolutionized the way painters dealt with their primary material.

Now small amounts of more colors could be squeezed out onto a pallete whenever the artist’s eye determined a particular hue was necessary. On a small tray attached to an easel there could be dozens of small paint tubes of different colors. revolutionized the act of painting outside the studio whether out in the countryside or in a city park. Artists understood the liberation that this gave them. Painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir was rumored to have said that “Without paints in tubes, there would have been no Cézanne, no Monet, no Sisley or Pissaro, nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionism.”