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The oldest known paintings are at the Grotte Chauvet in France, which some historians believe are about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black pigment, and they show horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth, abstract designs and what are possibly partial human figures. However, the earliest evidence of the act of painting has been discovered in two rock-shelters in Arnhem Land, in northern Australia. In the lowest layer of material at these sites, there are used pieces of ochre estimated to be 60,000 years old. Archaeologists have also found a fragment of rock painting preserved in a limestone rock-shelter in the Kimberley region of North-Western Australia, that is dated 40,000 years old. There are examples of cave paintings all over the world—in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, China, Australia, Mexico, etc. In Western cultures, oil painting and watercolor painting have rich and complex traditions in style and subject matter. In the East, ink and color ink historically predominated the choice of media, with equally rich and complex traditions.
The invention of photography had a major impact on painting. In the decades after the first photograph was produced in 1829, photographic processes improved and became more widely practiced, depriving painting of much of its historic purpose to provide an accurate record of the observable world. A series of art movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—notably Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, and Dadaism—challenged the Renaissance view of the world. Eastern and African painting, however, continued a long history of stylization and did not undergo an equivalent transformation at the same time.
Pastel is a painting medium in the form of a stick, consisting of pure powdered pigment and a binder. The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colored art media, including oil paints; the binder is of a neutral hue and low saturation. The color effect of pastels is closer to the natural dry pigments than that of any other process. Because the surface of a pastel painting is fragile and easily smudged, its preservation requires protective measures such as framing under glass; it may also be sprayed with a fixative. Nonetheless, when made with permanent pigments and properly cared for, a pastel painting may endure unchanged for centuries. Pastels are not susceptible, as are paintings made with a fluid medium, to the cracking and discoloration that result from changes in the color, opacity, or dimensions of the medium as it dries.
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil, such as linseed oil, which was widely used in early modern Europe. Often the oil was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body and gloss. Oil paint eventually became the principal medium used for creating artworks as its advantages became widely known. The transition began with Early Netherlandish painting in northern Europe, and by the height of the Renaissance oil painting techniques had almost completely replaced tempera paints in the majority of Europe.
Painters deal practically with pigments, so "blue" for a painter can be any of the blues: phthalocyanine blue, Prussian blue, indigo, Cobalt blue, ultramarine, and so on. Psychological and symbolical meanings of color are not, strictly speaking, means of painting. Colors only add to the potential, derived context of meanings, and because of this, the perception of a painting is highly subjective. The analogy with music is quite clear—sound in music (like a C note) is analogous to "light" in painting, "shades" to dynamics, and "coloration" is to painting as the specific timbre of musical instruments is to music. These elements do not necessarily form a melody (in music) of themselves; rather, they can add different contexts to it.