Art in Exile: The Tin Tube

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Art in Exile: a blog series focused on introducing beauty into the social media stream during a season of self-quarantine, social distancing, and a global pandemic.

Today’s Art in Exile is about ingenuity. What do zippers, pulleys, and bolts have in common? They’re simple inventions that changed how we live. Meet John Goffe Rand, an artist who, in 1841, came up with a simple invention that changed art forever—the collapsible tube.

John Goffe Rand

John Goffe Rand patented his invention, describing it as an “improvement in the construction of vessels or apparatus for preserving paint.” He worked “on” art, not just “in” it. This is the drawing he submitted to the Patent Office in 1841. 

John Goffe Rand’s patent drawing

Before the invention of the compressible tin tube, many artists kept their paint in pig bladders which were filled by syringe and closed with a tack, or a piece of bone or ivory. They were fragile and subject to rupturing when carried in a paint box. 

Bladder, Glass Syringe, Early Tin Tube

Before the tin tube, much of the world’s art was created indoors, in artists’ studios, close to their equipment. Artists mixed their own paints with linseed oil, varnish, and pigment. Colors were limited to what artists could mix themselves or buy locally. 

Oil Mixing Station

The tin tube allowed for more color choices, color consistency, portability, more time to work (less time spent mixing paint), more time before paint dried out, freedom to make spontaneous color choices, thicker application, and less waste. 

Old Tin Paint Tubes

Rand’s tin tube was crucial in the rise of “plein air” (outdoor) painting, which required portability. Renoir said, “Without colors in tubes there would be no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism.” We certainly wouldn’t have Monet’s “Waves at Manneporte,”

Monet, Waves at the Manneporte, 1883

Plein air painters who owe their career to the portability of the tin tube include Mary Cassatt, Vincent van Gogh, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and John Singer Sargent, to name a few. 

Mary Cassatt, Summertime, 1894

Right now I have within my reach a pair of glasses, a clock, a water bottle, books, a house key, a pen, and some coins—all simple inventions that shape how I live. We’re surrounded by the work of others whose patience and ingenuity fill our lives with common grace. 

Pic from my nightstand

So much of the beauty we behold in this world comes to us not just through the work of artists, but also through the work of people who developed tools and materials necessary for its creation. No one creates in a vacuum.

Winslow Homer, Artists Sketching in the White Mountains, 1868


Russ Ramsey
Russ is a pastor and author living in Nashville, Tennessee. His books include Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), and the Retelling the Story Series, featuring The Advent of the Lamb of God (IVP, 2018). His personal mission is to communicate the truths of Scripture in accessible ways to people in process. Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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