Gouache Painting
History, Types, Opaque Form of Watercolour Painting, With Chalk.

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Detail from "Bedouins" (1906)
Gouache and watercolour
By John Singer Sargent
Brooklyn Museum of Art.


For a list, see: Painting Glossary.

For definitions, meanings and
explanations of different arts,
see Types of Art.


Gouache is a fine art term which describes a type of paint consisting of pigment combined (like watercolours) with gum arabic. Unlike watercolour painting, however, gouache contains chalk to make it opaque and more reflective. Artists can use additives (eg. acrylic, honey or starch) to make it dry more slowly. It is thinned with water (or liquid glue to retain tonality) before being applied (with hog-hair or sable brushes) to white or tinted paper, card or silk.


There are four advantages of using Gouache. First, being opaque, it covers brushstrokes or other marks. Second, it dries very quickly in a matt finish. A feature exploited by plein air painters who need to work faster than studio artists.

Third, it can be applied in differing thicknesses, ranging from ultra-thin to impasto. Last, gouache comes in a variety of colours including fluorescent and metallic pigments. As a painting medium, it is especially useful in preparatory studies for acrylic and oil paintings, and for poster art, comic illustrations, comics, and other design art work. (See also: How To Appreciate Paintings.)

Note About Gouache Paint Colours
For details of colour pigments, along with hues and other dyes used in gouache works through the ages, see: Colour in Painting.

Example: Nu Bleu II (Blue Nude) (1952),
by French Post-Impressionist
and Fauvist Henri Matisse: one
of the world's most famous
gouache images.



Like watercolours, the use of Gouache dates from ancient Greece. It was a characteristic medium for Eastern and European miniature portrait painting from the twelfth century onwards, and appeared in Europe from 1300 - often in Western screen and fan decorations. Gouache is not a heavily used medium, although - like watercolours - it is resorted to by most artists for certain types of painting or effect.

Modern exponents of gouache include the French colourist Henri Matisse who used it to execute his series of Nu Bleu (Blue Nudes). Other practitioners include French painter Georges Rouault, the Swiss pioneer of Modernism Paul Klee, and the French naif artist Jean Dubuffet. In the United States, during the 1930s and 1940s, the Lithuanian-born painter Ben Shahn (1898-1969) completed a number of gouache panel paintings highlighting a number of social concerns.

• For facts about painting types, styles and history, see: Fine Art Painting.
• For details of oil, watercolour and acrylic artists, see: Homepage.

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