Plein Air Painting

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PLEIN AIR PAINTING
By Victoria Chick, contemporary figurative artist and early 19th & 20th century print collector

Oil paint in tubes, portable easels, and the invention of the railroad – the first two 19th century inventions made early Plein Air painting possible, the last made it convenient. Plein Air is a shortened version of the French term en plein air (in the open air), for outdoor painting that has been done over the last 160+ years and has grown in popularity in the United States, especially in the last 30 years.

 

The history of Plein Air has its roots in the French Realist movement. In the 1850s many artists quit painting historical, allegorical, and posed subjects in their studios and went outside to paint common, everyday people and settings. Corot was a leading painter in this group. He was not totally devoted to Plein Air painting, still doing large paintings in his studio to enter into the French Salon exhibitions, but he did do a great deal of outdoor painting. He was an influence on the painters of Fontainbleau, a forested area about 30 miles from Paris that became an art colony for those interested in working outdoors to capture nature as closely as possible.

 

Both Corot and the Fontainbleau painters used earthy pigments of brown and green, with blue and reddish-orange accents, along with white to tint their colors and provide highlights. The railroad from Paris had a line that extended to this forested region and provided transportation for many artists wanting to try, what was then, a radical way of working.Twenty years later, the next generation of painters took Plein Air to another level. These were artists who became known as Impressionists. They were interested in the way sunlight reflected off surfaces. They worked outside, often doing the same scene at different times of day or different seasons, to study the effects of light and atmosphere. Instead of the earth colors the Realists used, the Impressionist palette was lighter, leaning toward complimentary, pastel tints. Their outdoor painting locations were often urban sites.

In the late 1800s and into the first part of the 20th century, many young, American artists went to Paris to study where they were influenced by the Impressionists as well as by artists still working in the Realist style. Childe Hassam and John Twatchman were two of the most notable that returned to the United States and continued painting outdoors. Their success influenced their students as well as a group of their artist-peers at an art colony in Old Lyme, Connecticut. A connection developed between this group and artists residing in the Pacific Northwest who showed their work in East Coast galleries. Communication and exchange exhibits helped to spread the Plein Air way of working.

 

Today, Plein Air painting is practiced by many artists all over the United States and other countries. It offers freshness of vision and is generally characterized by loose brushwork and a limited palette, with detail being suggested rather than exactingly spelled out. True Plein Air painting is done completely on site and not finished in the studio.

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com

Cow Trail Art Studio - Silver City, NM

 


About the Author:

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio.

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