I have been having discussions for some time now about the use of paper as a painting surface for works of art, particularly oil painting. In most institutes of higher learning, conservators and artists who should know better might tell you that paper is an inadequate support for any serious professional painting, and when looking around you why would anyone think differently as paper garbage floats by in the wind?
These examples are paintings on paper. The first is by Raphael, another by Rembrandt, and the one on the right is by John Constable. The Raphael cartoons are painted with hide glue distemper, and the other two are oils. All are in excellent condition and quite old; although, to be fair, they have most certainly been well cared for. These can be described as studies for other finished works, but that doesn’t speak to the condition of the surface or how well they have withstood the test of time.
High quality paper is made from rag fabric fiber, either linen, cotton, or a blend of the two, but it’s the cheapness of wood pulp most people are familiar with that has given all paper a bad reputation. Even wood pulp can be processed to be virtually free of lignin acids that cause staining and brittleness. All types of paper need to be properly sized as preparation for oil painting using hide glue, PVA, or shellac. Mediums such as pastels or watercolors need glass protection mainly due to fragility of the media itself, and to simplify the care and maintenance of the work.
Today many galleries will not accept paintings on paper as a rule unless they are mounted under glass (glazed.) Unfortunately, that is not a good thing for an oil painting, since it would cause the oil to not oxidize properly, and for an acrylic painting it’s not required at all. Juried shows often have the same glazing requirement, and I can understand how it might simplify things for them to just insist that everything be presented the same way. However, it puts a burden on the artist that in some cases isn’t necessary, and implies that all paper stock is inferior to other surfaces. If it was good enough for Rembrandt, it’s good enough for me.