Byzantine icon Apostle Peter, VI century

Encaustic is a complex and very vivid wax painting technique

Encaustic. Esther Geller. Untitled. XX century
Esther Geller. Untitled. XX century

Encaustic is a painting technique in which wax serves as a binding agent for paints. When painting a picture, the artist melts the wax paint and applies it to the base with a brush or a special stick. Works of art made in this technique are distinguished by brightness and richness of color shades.

Encaustic is a very difficult technique to perform, requiring special talent and caution from the artist when working with hot paints. But encaustic works of art, unlike oil or tempera paintings, are less susceptible to destruction under the influence of changes in temperature and humidity.

Tony Sherman. Portrait of Serena Williams. XXI century
Tony Sherman. Portrait of Serena Williams. XXI century

Features of encaustic

At all times, encaustic was not very popular among artists. To paint a picture using this technique, a painter has to face many difficulties:

  • Carefully select the formulation to obtain the paint with the optimum density.
  • Prepare paints of all the necessary shades in advance, and not mix them on a palette during work.
  • Act quickly and confidently as long as the wax remains soft.
  • Work only on hard base material (stone, wood, plaster or concrete).
  • Have a constant heat source (open flame) available to warm up rapidly cooling paint.
Byzantine icon Apostle Peter, VI century
Byzantine icon Apostle Peter, VI century

The history of encaustics

The history of encaustics, according to most experts in the field of art, is more than 3000 years old. Hieroglyphic inscriptions and scrolls indicate that in ancient Egypt this technique was used to decorate the sarcophagi of mummies and the walls of the tombs of the pharaohs. Unfortunately, samples of the work of Egyptian masters have not survived to this day. There is also documentary evidence that encaustics were widespread in ancient Greece. Archaeologists even found several descriptions of recipes for making encaustic paints, which were used by the artists Protogen, Heraclitus, Nitsias, Apelles and others.

In 1887, archaeologists discovered on the territory of modern Egypt a huge number of funerary portraits from the era of the Roman Empire. In total, about 900 paintings were found, which received the general name “Fayum portraits”. Realistic images of men and women are made on wooden boards. In later works, artists first used wax and then egg tempera.

Encaustic. Fayum portrait of a woman, 2nd century
Fayum portrait of a woman, 2nd century

The skill of creating wax paintings was inherited from the Romans by Byzantine painters.

Until the middle of the 12th century, they used this technique to paint icons, but still abandoned it in favor of a more convenient tempera painting. As a result, the secrets of ancient art were completely lost for almost 800 years.

Only in the 30s. In the twentieth century, the artist Fritz Faiss, together with Dr. Hans Schmid, succeeded in rediscovering the encaustic painting technique, Punic Wax. They published the results of their work in the scientific press, which aroused great interest among art critics.

The rapid growth in the number of supporters of abstractionism in the second half of the twentieth century contributed to an active search for new artistic materials and methods of self-expression. This led to an increase in the popularity of alternative painting techniques, including encaustics. As a result, for more than 70 years, hundreds of artists around the world have been actively working with wax paints and seeking public recognition.

Fayum portrait of a young man. 2nd century
Fayum portrait of a young man. 2nd century
Notable masters of encaustics

The names of the most famous modern encaustic masters are little familiar to most ordinary people. But critics and millions of art connoisseurs around the world recognize the undoubted talent of the following painters:

  1. Esther Geller is an American artist with unique organic abstractions. Geller not only experimented a lot with wax painting, but also shared her knowledge with listeners for many years at lectures in different parts of the world.
  2. Tony Scherman is a contemporary Canadian portrait and history artist. The cycle of paintings from the times of Napoleon and the French Revolution brought him special fame.
  3. Betsy Eby (Betsy Eby) master of abstract painting, the author of lyrical and restrained paintings. Ebi is very fond of classical music and draws inspiration from the works of the best composers of different eras.
  4. Pedro Cuni-Bravo is an American artist of Spanish descent. Cooney-Bravo not only paints, but also restores ancient frescoes made in different techniques.