Sennelier Rive Gauche – a new class of oil paint – with Max Hale

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Sennelier Rive Gauche – a new class of oil paint – with Max Hale

Sennelier has recently launched Rive Gauche, a range of oil paints for which, says Max Hale, they have made some interesting claims. Read to on to find out what’s different about them and why his first impression was one of pleasure.

'Sennelier’s range oil paints, Rive Gauche, consists of 60 colours in 40ml – 56 colours in 200ml tubes, 52 opaque, six semi-opaque, two transparent and four iridescent colours. So what’s different?' asks Max Hale.

'Firstly, the paint dries in half the time. This is, without a doubt, a huge, ground-breaking achievement that has been brought about by modifying the oils binding the paint.

'Interestingly, the second difference is that Sennelier has replaced linseed oil with safflower oil throughout the whole range. Safflower oil yellows 50 per cent less than linseed.

'Thirdly, Sennelier has replaced cadmium with cadmium substitutes, which, they say, allows them to use new pigments that offer opacity and luminosity that is almost equivalent to real cadmium-based oils.

'I was excited to try these out as I have experienced varied performance from oil paints, and these differences are a contributing factor in the painting process.'


What I found

The beautifully colour-matched livery of the tubes makes it easy to find a particular colour when searching through the plethora of tubes in the studio, without having to read small writing or identify the tiny swatches of colour on a bland tube. Top marks from me, Sennelier!

I used the 40ml tubes, which I think are a handy size, not only for general use but also for travelling and plein-air work. Not too large or too small and I can fit them into my pochade comfortably.

I chose my usual palette, which included:

I added a further few colours I don't use regularly for the purposes of this evaluation:

The cadmiums are listed as ‘cadmium hue’, which helps you to spot the substitutes if you use cadmiums.

Interestingly, Sennelier hasn't stated precisely whether this range is student- or artist-quality paint, but my take on this is one of marketing rather than quality.

The website lists artist-quality oils separately from Rive Gauche, and I am sure it's to keep the understanding of traditional paint and the new style with fast-drying, safflower oil and replacement pigments away from each other in case of confusion. Sennelier seem to avoid the term 'student quality' so perhaps there's a clue.

On opening the paint and building my palette prior to starting, the first thing I noticed is that unlike many other paints, there was little or no oil as I dispensed the paint – I am used to a little binding oil coming out before the pigment. Anyway, that aside, as I pushed my brush into the paint I found it to be quite firm and viscous. I quite like a firm mix but this was a little more than I expected. Sennelier do claim the paint is quite firm and good for applying with a knife, and encourage the use of a thinner or a diluent to suit your needs.

Using the paints

As I painted I liked the depth of pigment and the differential, particularly between the blues, which can be quite similar on the palette, especially cobalt and ultramarine. There would be no problem detecting which was which if you had forgotten where on your palette you placed them. I used a citrus thinner to help when blocking in. I usually just use the oil within the paint when I'm painting to build my mids and light areas, only adding a medium or fattening oil as a last resort.

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I found the Rive Gauche paint to be rather dry straight from the tube, titanium white especially. I was constantly adding a thinner or extra safflower if I wanted a 'fatter' mix. I haven't had to do this with any paint I've used recently and it felt strange to have to revisit a practice I'd almost abandoned. It may not be a drawback for painters who use mediums more readily than me, of course.

I worked on a beach scene of my grandchildren in Wales earlier this year (see below). I found the colours mixed well with no surprises and covered my underpainting without any problem. The hues were true and gave excellent results.

As far as 'drying' goes, even if we all know that oils harden rather than dry, Rive Gauche does certainly dry faster. My original lay down after blocking in with raw umber was one of trying to discover some mid-tones, and then test out how much I could push the boundaries with over-painting areas I knew would usually take at least a few days to harden off for the next application. The areas were tacky enough to paint over within a day or sometimes even within the same session.

I did separate tests to check how far the drying times could be pushed. On the whole Sennelier's claim that the paint takes half the time to dry is true and it might take even less, depending on your application.

If you feel you need fast-drying oils, it works well. The cadmium replacements are good and I am now less concerned about the possibility of substitute pigments if we ever did have to lose cadmiums completely.

The safflower oil I like a lot; it is much cleaner, smells less and if it does keep the paint from yellowing over time, then I would support it wholeheartedly.

Sisters on the Beach, Sennelier Rive Gauche oils on canvas cotton panel, (30x40cm)

I found these paints to be responsive and they contain great colour depth.

The mixing of the pinks and of the water was easy using these oils.

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Max Hale studied at Harrow School of Art. He teaches workshops and painting holidays, and offers personal mentoring.

His DVD First Steps in Water-Mixable Oils is available from Town House Films,, telephone 01603 782888.


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