Oil paintings are a relatively new medium of artwork compared to other forms of paintings. The use of oils in oil paintings and pigments only dates back to around 1400. Before that, oil paintings did not exist although painting in general dates back to the Stone Age. Before oil paintings were made, artists had to use binders mixed with pigment, egg in tempera paints, or plaster in frescoes. Oil painting changed the face of painting forever after.
Early in the fifteenth century, a revolution in painting came about in Europe, which saw the beginning of oil paintings. The Renaissance heralded in a brilliant artist named Jan Van Eyck (1395-1441), who sought to copy nature to the exact detail in every painting he made. He quickly realized it was not possible with conventional paints and so he created oil paint to make oil paintings.
Previous to Van Eyck and oil painting, painters did not buy ready made colors. They grounded their own pigments from natural sources, such as trees or plants, and included a binder to form a paste with which to use as paint. During the Middle Ages, the binder was usually egg, but this type of paint was ineffectual compared to the oil paint used in oil paintings. Van Eyck substituted oil instead of egg for a binder, allowing him to work slower (oil paints don't dry as fast as tempera paint) and add layers or glaze on his oil paintings.
Van Eyck's oil paintings soon amazed his contemporaries, and it led to a wide acceptance of oil painting as a medium. Oil painting today is more convenient than 600 years ago, as the paint is sold in tube form and there are many more mixing mediums to choose from. But Van Eyck's contribution to art and his oil paintings will forever be appreciated by artists everywhere.