In an obituary for Dan Robbins, the illustrator who created paint-by-numbers, it was revealed that he got the idea from Leonardo da Vinci. Apparently the Renaissance artist numbered the objects in his backgrounds and had his apprentices fill them in.
Robbins, who died April 1, 2019 at 93, was working for the Palmer Show Card Paint Co. which made children’s paint and colouring books when he was asked by its owner Max Klein, to find a way to sell more paint. He suggested that Robbins develop a colouring book for adults. Uninterested in the colouring book idea Robbins turned to Leonardo’s idea of making numbered outlines of objects for painting, and prototyped a cubist still life. Although Klein hated the still life he liked the concept and asked Robbins to develop a representational version. The first image, based on a photograph of the New England coast, was called “The Fisherman.”
The kits were sold under the name “Craft Master,” which included canvas, brushes, and paints. The best-selling painting in the collection: Leonardo’s “Last Supper” was developed by Holocaust survivor Adam Grant. Its fittingly ironic that the Renaissance artist who inspired paint-by-numbers should be the best-selling artist of the series. In 1955 sales of paint-by-numbers hit twenty million kits, twelve million of which were sold by Craft Master.
Seelye, Katherine Q. “Paint-by-Numbers Pioneer Helped Make “Every Man a Rembrandt,” The Globe and Mail, April 16, 2019.