Casein paint

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Café Comedian
MFA# 1990.378


A water-based, matte paint with a Casein binder. Dry casein is hydrolyzed with alkalis (lime, borax, ammonia, etc.) to form a clear viscous solution. Casein paints dry to a matte, brittle film that is insoluble in water and impervious to most paint strippers. It may sometimes be removed with strong Alkaline or ammonia solutions. Casein paints have been used for panel paintings, wall paintings, and as architectural paints. It is too brittle for use on canvas. Casein paints were sometimes varnished or glazed to imitate oil paints. Commercial production of casein paints began about 1900. Prior to that time, most casein paints were prepared by the painter.

Casein paint

Synonyms and Related Terms

milk paint; casein colour (Br.); peinture à la caséine (Fr.); pintura a la caseína (Esp.); pittura alla caseina (It.); pintura de caseína (Port.); farmer's paint; casein tempera; casein painting; lime casein; badigeon

Physical and Chemical Properties

Insoluble in water or ethanol when dry. Soluble in strong alkalis and ammonium hydroxide. Impervious to most modern paint strippers.


May yellow with time. Susceptible to mold growth.

Resources and Citations

  • K.Wehlte, The Materials and Techniques of Painting, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1975.
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Paint in America, Robert Moss (ed.), John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994 Comment: M.Phillips, "A Survey of Paint Technolology"
  • Tom Rowland, Noel Riley, A-Z Guide to Cleaning, Conserving and Repairing Antiques, Constable and Co., Ltd., London, 1981
  • Marie Svoboda, Conservation Survey Index, unpublished, 1997