Wood paintings were the standard medium used by artists before canvas rose to popularity during the 16th Century. Today, many artists still create wood paintings, commonly referred to as panel paintings, for the material’s durability and organic texture. We invite you to explore our wide selection of wood paintings for sale, created by talented emerging artists from around the globe.
The world’s most famous sacred altarpieces were painted on wood, including the Isenheim Altarpiece (1516) by Matthias Grünewald and the Ghent Altarpiece (1432) by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. The latter of these altarpieces has the distinction of being the most stolen work of art in history and its whereabouts remain a mystery to this day. While canvas was displacing wood as the most popular support medium in the 16th century, many painters in Northern Europe continued to create wood paintings including Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens who preferred its solidity when creating highly detailed works. Rembrandt occasionally used wood panels for his works, for example The Raising of Lazarus (1630-32), Abduction of Europa (1963), as well as several of his many self-portraits. Late-18th, early-19th century painter Francisco Goya has among his corpus of work a number of well-known paintings on wood including The Inquisition Tribunal (1812-19), A Procession of Flagellants, (1812-19), The Madhouse (1812-19), and A Village Bullfight (1812-14).
Though the practice dates back to the Greco-Roman period, the oldest surviving paintings on wood are Ancient Egyptian “mummy portraits” dating back to 100 BCE. Until the 16th century, wooden panels were the most widely used support medium for paintings, unless the artist was creating a fresco (painting directly upon a wall). In ancient Greece and Rome, the creation of wood paintings was a highly regarded art form. Classical Greek portraits were typically painted on smaller wood panels, while extremely large panels were used for friezes which adorned the walls of public buildings. A large number of portrait panel paintings from Roman-occupied Egypt (between the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE) still survive in relatively good condition, as the arid climes of that region helped to preserve the works for posterity. Wood panels are also the traditional support for Byzantine iconography, an ages-old traditional practice which still endures, in various forms, within orthodox Christian churches today.
For archival purposes, wood paintings are typically created on sized (i.e. sealed) panels made of hardwoods including birch, oak, mahogany, walnut, and maple. (Softwoods such as pine are more prone to warping.) It is important for artists to size the panel in order to protect the wood from acids and oils which can yellow the painting over time. If the artist desires a smooth, white surface, numerous layers of gesso may be applied to a sealed panel and then sanded down until smooth and level. Alternatively, some artists desire for the natural wood grain to be visible in the finished artwork, so the gesso is omitted.