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Oil paint consists of pigment mixed with an oil medium, usually linseed, and can be diluted with spirits. Because of its versatility, flexibility and rich and dense colour, oil has become the most popular painting medium for important works since the sixteenth century. It dries slowly, rather than sets, and can be painted over to create a great variety of effects from enamel smoothness to violent impasto. Both minute detail and subtle blending of tones can be achieved in a way no other painting technique can rival, the closest being acrylic.

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Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
after William Scrots
circa 1570-1580s, based on a work of 1546
NPG 4952

William Shakespeare
associated with John Taylor
circa 1600-1610

Edwin Landseer
by John Ballantyne
circa 1865
NPG 835

Queen Alexandra
after Luke Fildes
1920, based on a work of 1894
NPG 1889

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