|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 modeled 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 Impressionists.
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.