History of Bitumen in Art

Bitumen is a fossil therefore a natural product. This can be either in liquid form, close to oil, or as a sealant or a rock on the surface of the water called "bitumen of Judea".
You find asphalt around the world, including the Middle and Near East where is has beeb exploited for 40000 years.
People know its many properties since the Paleolithic. Archaeologists have dated to 5000 BC. the first use of asphalt. The Old testament mentions the use of bitumen to caulk the Ark of Noah.
We can speak of a true "civilization bitumen" throughout the Mediterranean where it was the subject of trade. Its use was mainly for caulking boats to ensure tightness. It was also employed in the construction of buildings in everyday objects or in artistic objects (see the Louvre Museum collection from the city of Susa in Iran - Jacques Connan - BITUMEN IN ANCIENT - Wandering Editions).
In liquid form it replaced oil in lamps. Egyptians embalmed mummies using bitumen as a preservative substituting blood.
The bitumen was used very early in the field of road construction since traces dating from the 7th century BC were found on the site of ancient Babylon. Bitumen and asphalt roads revolutionized. The first asphalt pavement was in Paris in 1838 and in 1854 the first street (rue Bergère).Artists have not always used existing painting medias as we know them today. They created their mixtures to paint using natural materials from their environment: walnut, tar, shellac, plants, minerals... they invented tools and developed some very personal creative techniques.
Some of them used bitumen to preserve the back of painting canvases from moisture and fungi by one or two layers coating . Others, such as Théodore Géricault, leader of the romantic mouvement, prepared his canvas with bitumen (The Raft of the Medusa in 1819) and in 1826. the researches by Niepce on photography was made whit bitumen.
The first photo requested several days of pose.
Bitumen is used in all fields of art and schools of fine arts and is taught for the "bitumen of Judea" as varnish for engraving.
Some visuals artists have chosen the asphalt for a time in their creations such as: Tapiés, Dubuffet, Salvador Dali. We know that Soulages diverted certain products used in wood (walnut).

Today, we are very few artists to use the "bitumen" as a medium. Bitumen remains a worrying matter, perhaps because out of the bowels of the earth.

See also:
"Movement tachiste International" Victor Hugo


Daniel Convenant