The history of painting

The history of painting

We’ve lived, studied, and worked in rooms and houses with painted walls, but have you ever asked yourself how our wall-staining culture came to be? There are hundreds of hues and shades available at your local paint store; however, things were quite different even in the not-so-distant past, let alone thousands of years ago. If you’re interested in the origins of interior or exterior house painting, then journey with us through the annals of history to trace them back.

Paleolithic period

The early human beings were initially nomadic hunters. While they could tough out the conditions in the wildlands, a desire to protect themselves from the elements and predators saw them move to caves and other abodes. The practice of decorating their homes with color soon came to be. Archeological evidence has found the paint used by humankind about 40,000 years ago was, as expected, very rudimentary — think colored earth, organic substances mixed with animal blood, and soot.

An accidental discovery made in a South African cave in 2016 by a bunch of kids shows us the kind of painting tools and materials used about 100,000 years ago. The Guardian tells us these stone-age painters derived red and yellow pigments from crushed sea snails. Murals found in Lascaux, France, were created using these pigments.

Pharaonic era

Let’s fast-forward to about 2,000 years ago on the opposite tip of the African continent — Ancient Egypt. The brightly-hued walls in Dendera defy the technology of their time by retaining their vibrancy and color two millennia later. Those artists could paint with six colors by mixing fat or oil with lead, animal blood, earth, semi-precious stone, or ground glass.

These Egyptians had a special relationship with the afterlife. They believed the murals in tombs and temples reminded them of the continuous nature of life and its propagation to the nether realms after death. As such, they used blues, blacks, greens, yellows, reds, and whites to depict important aspects of their national psyche throughout their civilization.

Middle Ages

One thing about the painting profession is that it was done all through history by commissioned craftsmen and artisans. Its status as a profession was evident as early as the 1200s, and the common consensus is that it was a recognized career even earlier than that.

Painters in England formed guilds in the fourteenth century. It solidified painting as a respected career choice with certain standards of operation upheld. The two groups formed were the “Stainers’ Company” and “Painters’ Company.” Queue a couple of hundred years, and the two rebranded and merged into the “Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers.” Their painting techniques were closely guarded secrets to secure their source of living.

Colonial America

Things worked a little different in the American colonies when compared to the house painters of the previous periods. The Pilgrims frowned upon it as they considered it an immodest display of wealth and saw it as vain. It was considered immoral by many. Progress, however, desired to be pursued, and the demand for interior painting went on despite objections by the Puritans.

Water and oil were used as a base to be mixed with materials such as berries, fruits, eggs, rice, coffee, copper or iron oxide, ground shells, and lead in the development of different kinds and colors of paint. Numerous homes were brought to life with murals of stone, sky, and landscape features on walls, cornices, ceilings, and paneling.

They used paint brushes almost similar to ours with wooden handles and hair attached. Contemporary brushes use synthetic fiber instead of hair. The technique was also quite similar to today’s, but the ease of application wasn’t quite the same as most of the paints used back then were quite viscous.

The real renaissance in the residential painting scene started in 1718 by Marshall Smith when he created a machine to grind up colors. It sparked a race among painters to innovate the easiest way to grind up pigment materials in a bid to mass-produce manufactured paint in paint mills.  Linseed oil was discovered to be a cheap binding agent that worked well on wood in the mid-1800s.

Late modern period

In 1866 Sherwin-Williams was formed as the debutant company in the production of ready-to-use paint. Sherwin, Williams, & Co. was formed in Cleveland, Ohio, by Henry Sherwin, Edward Williams, and Alanson Osborn. Henry Sherwin was the creative mind that brought us resealable tin cans. Benjamin and Robert Moore founded Benjamin Moore & Co. in 1883, and these two companies have been in competition ever since.

Benjamin Moore understood the importance of research into the technology and science behind color mixing and production. In 1982, this company was the first to design and use the computer-based color-matching system that we all use today.


It’s clear as day that throughout history, we’ve not only painted on paper and canvases but also on the walls of our abodes to beautify them and incorporate a little of our varying cultures. Given all the color options, paint types, and different technologies available to us today, there’s no reason why your house’s exterior and interior can’t be lovely, carrying the vibes you love. To bring out your home’s potential vibrancy, contact Painter Bros today for a free estimate.