|Great Basin, Mount Katahdin, Maine, by Frederic Edwin Church, 1852, oil painting.
I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that plein air
painting is something artists of all styles, subject matter, and strengths can
enjoy. Throughout history numerous landscape approaches have emerged either in
tandem with or in opposition to the stylistic movements that were being
pioneered indoors by figure, portrait, or still life painters. Whether those
plein air paintings were used as preparatory sketches for larger studio pieces or
considered finished works in their own right, working outdoors from nature has always been of supreme importance to many great landscape painters.
Although the tradition of painting on-site had its initial
roots in the classical world of Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin and was moved forward by Romantic-era painters Corot and Constable, it found footing in America through the naturalistic sentiments of the Hudson
River School painters and in France by the nonacademic Barbizon School. Soon
after, the movement became revolutionized by the forwarding-thinking French
Impressionists and quickly entered America via the Golden Gate of California,
after which it spread like wildfire across the country, finding further
adaptation along the way.
|On the Hills to Settignano, by Telemaco Signorini,
1885, oil painting, 14 1/2 x 20. Private collection.
|| The Vladimirka Road, by Issac Levitan, 1892, oil painting, 31 x 48.
||Mist Over Point Lobos, by Guy Rose,
1918, oil painting, 20 x 24.
Today, you can still find plein air artists working in
various styles that are often regionally related and tie back to the historic
artists who spearheaded these movements, such as today’s New
York-area artists who recently started the Hudson River Fellowship
after the ideals of the late-1800 Hudson River School; the California Art Club
landscape painters who are still heavily connected to the great California
Impressionists who help found their club in 1909; the New England art colonies
of Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut who are advancing colorist theories
first developed in those communities more than 100 years ago; or artists all
over the country and world who continue to be influenced by the international
landscape legacies of the Italian Macchiaioli, Russian Itinerants, and French
The outdoors is not only a great classroom for artists of
all stylistic interpretations but also for artists of other subject matter.
Because painting outdoors requires consummate observational skills and quick,
accurate decision making, figure painters who spend time working outdoors often
find their understanding of how light affects form—and their ability to more
naturally and accurately record it—increasing. What’s more, painting en plein
air can be an enjoyable way to recharge your creative batteries after long
winters or endless indoor painting sessions. In a previous interview for the
Plein Air blog, classical figure and landscape painter Jacob Collins noted
that, “I spend so much of my time cooped up in a dark studio, and some of the
most enjoyable times I have spent in the last 20 years have been trips I've
made with my friends painting outside.”
Regardless of whether you’re exclusively a plein air painter or one who
specializes in several subject matter; an artist following academic practices
or one drawn to a looser, more Impressionist style; an oil painter,
watercolorist, pastelist, or acrylic painter; or someone who just needs to feel
light on your face and fresh air in your lungs when you paint, the good news is
that in the great outdoors, there’s room for everyone.