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Plein-Air Painting: History and Factors Essay

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Updated: May 21st, 2020

Plein-Air painting describes an artistic movement of the mid 19th century. These artists painted scenes in various locations in the open air. This type of painting originated in California, United States, hence the name California Plein-Air painting or California Impressionism. Other American states that were linked to impressionist approach include Connecticut, New Mexico, Massachusetts and South Carolina. The Plein-Air artists painted scenes on locations as the impressionists did one century earlier. Impressionists are also one of the most famous artistic movements of the18th and early 19th century. Impressionism deals with the study of luminosity and the environment (Stern 2).

Plein-Air painting had combined elements of European and American art. In keeping with this straightforward and sincere approach to art, the artists decided to cautiously and precisely scrutinize the subjects. Therefore, realism and its related variables were the method of choice. The aspiration for realistic representation of forms had always been an influential feature of the American and European art (National Gallery of Art 91). The essay will look at a number of factors that influenced Open-Air painting and the great names behind Plein-Air painting.

Factors that contributed to Plein-Air painting

According to the National Gallery of Art, Open-Air painting was already recognized in the early 19th century (91). An influential paper published in the early 19th century by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes emphasized on the values of the Open-Air painting. Open-air painting was used to train and prepare young aspiring painters. In addition, numerous artists made regular journeys to paint in beautiful sites. The regular expeditions were promoted by the expansion of the rail systems, which made it possible for artists to reach the countryside and other remote locations. The number of Open-Air painters increased considerably (National Gallery of Art 91).

Initially, Plein-Air artists were mainly concenrned with the local landscape or scenery. Nothing out of the realm was included in the painting (Westphal 1). A number of researchers attribute Plein-Air painting to a number of inventions made in the 19th century. This invention included a flexible metallic storage tube, which resembled a toothpaste tube. The discovery totally transformed the art of painting. The metallic storage tube freed the artists from the weight of mixing paints and keeping them in an awkward and wasteful animal pouches (Stern 3).

The invention also made sure that the artists were no longer restricted to simple charcoal sketches in relation to outdoor work of art. They could gather a few painting stuff and generate completed canvases outdoor, directly in touch with nature. French artists were among the pioneers of open air painting, for example, Jean-Baptiste Camille. This invention furthered the impressionist movement. It was the first time painters went outside to learn more about nature. It was an eye-opener for artists to shrewdly examine the impact of light on the objects in space under different conditions (Westphal 2).

During this era, other artistic movements were also cropping up. However, impressionist movement was the most dominant. Some of the most famous artists whose impressionist style inspired many other artists include Mary Cassatt. They were members of the French impressionist movement. The French impressionists were a group of artists from the 19th century who studied the impact of light on shapes and figures in different locations (Rubin 5).

Famous Impressionists Artists

As a literary and artistic movement, the objective of Plein-Air painting was to provide an honest, objective and unbiased illustration of the real world, based on a thorough study of nature and people’s way of life. This was best illustrated by the American artists Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and Asher Durand (1796-1886). Their work focused on nature and life in the rural setting of California (Stern 2).

Spanish artist by the name Joaquin Sorolla was also one of the well-known impressionists who promoted Plein-Air painting. He employed very many people who helped him to handle outsized linen canvases in the outdoor studios. He organized numerous exhibitions in the United States. His main objective was to popularize his work and ideas in the United States and the world at large. Sorolla made more than two hundred thousand dollars at these exhibitions. In addition, he was commissioned by the director of the Hispanic Society of America Museum (HSAM) to paint the Manhattan Island.

In the late 19th century, Impressionism became very popular in France. It made its first appearance in the French capital of Paris in 1874, thanks to Mary Cassatt. Some of the great French impressionists includes Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissaro among others. Most of them exhibited their work together. However, differences over theories and practice saw a number of groups breaking up. The French impressionists comprised of different personalities with different objectives and theoretical methods. In some cases, these artists strained the limits of what can be expressed as real impressionism. Furthermore, impressionism only gained popularity in the United States after its unruly debut in France (Stern 5).

For the above reason, the American artists benefited considerably from the French artists. They had the luxury of singling out quite a lot of methods and approaches, which were developed by French artists who had advanced beyond impressionism. However, there are also a number of American artists who developed a technique of impressionism that was free of French influence and strongly entrenched in the American tradition. One of such artists is Edward Redfield. Redfield was a Boston Impressionist who was enormously praised for his artistic work. He was strongly linked to forceful realism, hinged on the affection of nature and exemplifying spirit of the America’s famous pioneers. The Americans loved his work because they felt a sense of connection (National Gallery of Art 91; Stern 6).

As the 20th century approached, impressionism started to fade away. Artists started to deviate from impressionism to abstract art. Some of the impressionism techniques and approaches, for instance, Pennsylvania Impressionism was viewed as old-fashioned and retrospective. In addition, some impressionism techniques were discredited and for the most part overlooked. Open-air painting reached its peak in 1920s and gradually diminished. It only came back into view in the early 1980s (National Gallery of Art 91).

Conclusion

Plein-Air painting started in the 1880S in California, United States, hence the name California Plein-Air painting. This artistic style combined elements of both European and American art. In keeping with this straightforward and sincere approach to art, the artists decided to carefully and precisely study the impact of light on nature. Even though Open-Air painting began in the US, it gained popularity in both the US and France. As an idealist, literary, and artistic movement, the objective of Plein-Air painting was to provide an honest, objective and unbiased illustration of the real world, based on a thorough study of nature and people’s way of life. Open-air painting hit the highest point in the1920s and gradually faded away. It only came back into view in the early 1980s.

Works Cited

National Gallery of Art. Picturing France: 1830-1900. National Gallery of Art, Inc., 2008. Print.

Rubin, James. Impressionism. London: Phaidon, 1999.Print.

Stern, Jean. A history of Plein Air Art: Impressionism in California. California: The Irvine Museum, Inc., 2006. Print.

Westphal, Ruth. Plein-Air Painters of California: The North. Irvine, California: Westphal Publishing, 1986. Print.

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