En plein air

En plein air (literally in the open air) is a phrase in French that indicates a pictorial method consisting of painting outdoors to capture the subtle nuances that light generates on every detail. Another objective of this technique is to grasp the true essence of things, since it is an expression deriving from direct observation of reality.In vogue especially in the European nineteenth century, en plein air painting was widely used by the pictorial current of the Impressionists. This method contrasts with studio painting or academic rules that might create a predetermined look.

Although in the historical past the artists have already used the resource of painting the nature they contemplated (genre or landscape art), it was not until the mid- nineteenth century when they explicitly chose to use natural light to study and achieve certain effects and apply them to His painting. Even then, landscapers as prominent as Carlos de Haes continued the tradition of reserving most of the pictorial work for the studio (as in the so-called cabinet painting), and making only sketches or notes of the natural outdoors.

Such a novelty was a ‘choice of style’, attributed to the Barbizon school and the first Impressionists in France, although in Italy other circles of painters such as the Macchiaioli also developed similar proposals at the same time, while in England what The members of the Newlyn school in Russia made many of their best landscape designers and in other European and American countries various colonies and circles specialized in landscape painting.

Perhaps the key to the success and popularization of plenaryism from the 1870s was the commercialization of tube containers for oil painting. Before them, each painter had to make their own colors by mixing dried powder pigments with flaxseed oil. Another invention of the same stage was the type of easel called in English “French box easel”, although it has not been established with certainty who used it first. It consisted of a very easily transportable structure, with telescopic legs, which could incorporate the palette and the paint box; which allowed the painters in the open air authentic country excursions, in addition to being also suitable for use in the studio.

It is clear that painting au-plein-air and painting outdoors mean the same thing and are used to describe a pictorial technique: work from the natural, that is, in a preferably natural space. The term plenairismo, however, seems to report that has been added to the practice of this technique will ideological, emotional chromatic. Touring the History of Art, it is proven that the Assyrians, the Chinese, the Aztecs and, much earlier, the cave artists painted outdoors, but there is no documentation of the social and artistic reasons that led them to do so, or if they were simply religious, geographical or obvious. However, since its appearance in the Parisian hotbed in the mid-nineteenth century, plenaryism has resulted in a conflicting term, a germ of controversy among critics, academics and art scholars, and a wild card of abstract use for the vast majority. Meanwhile, the painters went out to the field to paint with their easels and umbrellas, moving on many occasions the necessary daring and their models to the most unexpected corners of the more or less wild nature.

It is surprising that different authors in different contexts, presented as “landscape pure” to the Greco of View of Toledo, to the Velázquez of two small landscapes of the Villa Medici, or the Van Gogh of Cafe Terrace at the night, which paints the natural in the middle of the night and is lit by placing candles around his hat.

Before the ideological use of the technique of painting on (and others, therefore, nineteenth terminologies critics, bourgeois and “Fanes’ outdoor an endless list of artists, many of them first – line painted” in. situ “voluntarily and system Here, plenairistas were: Dürer, Claude Lorrain, Poussin, Salvator Rosa and in the stretch, Camille Corot, Joseph Mallord William Turner and Constable.

It seems accepted, except for the most recalcitrant chauvinists who, still unnamed, plenaryism was forged in England in the last third of the 18th century, as an exercise, as a technical resource, as an academic recipe for the correct landscape painting and as a synonym for «soaking up of air and light ». Thus, the great precursor teacher proposed by specialists and critics was John Constable.

The fact that Diderot, after strolling through the Parisian hall of 1767, preferred many sketches to the finished paintings, does not detract from the official and frontal battle, which the painters of Barbizón fought, following the Anglo-Dutch tradition. It is justified by the popular colonies of plenaryists (now already labeled) that in the 1820s painted corporately in the forest of Fontainebleau, in Saint-Cloud, in Sèvres and all along the coast of the La Mancha canal.

Watercolors and travelers
The creation in 1804, in England, of the Watercolor Society (Society of Watercolors) and the popularization of watercolor painting in Europe and America, made this technique the king resource of traveling painters and “pioneers of plenaryism.”

On his trip to Morocco in 1831, Eugenio Delacroix, “a cabinet painter” oblivious to landscape painting, the professional use of watercolor by traveling artists and subsequent plenary fashions, draws, notes and paints in seven notebooks several thousand of watercolors. Some of those natural notes would become canvas years later; for example Jewish weddings, presented at the Paris Salon of 1841, and preserved in the Louvre Museum. From 1820 dates the acceptance of the watercolor technique in the ultra-academicist schemes of said Hall, a market and pictorial business catalyst and art referee in the European courts of the time. In 1824, four English artists had triumphed in this Hall (perhaps because they had been rejected before in their own country): Thomas Lawrence, John Constable, Copley Fielding and Richard Parkes Bonington.

In the specific case of Delacroix, his discoveries and reflections on the behavior of light on objects would serve as premises for pointillism theorists such as Seurat and Paul Signac.

Outline and finished work
The reflections of the poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire after leaving the Paris Salon of 1845, stimulated by the landscapes of Corot, exposed the official contradiction of considering as works of art paintings meticulously worked in the study and reject as such, spontaneous sketches taken from the natural. A contradiction on which, on the other side of the Alps, the members of the circle of painters called macchiaioli also speculated.

The scandal came when, stimulated by the obvious, painters from around the world, centralized by the French example, the best known and disseminated, decided to consider and therefore present and trade the supposed sketches as finished works of art. The technique of plenaryism had just made the qualitative leap from which nothing and no one in the future could snatch.

Picnic in plein-air and fullness on the beach
The country idylls of a Watteau, the pastoral landscape scenes of Claudius of Lorraine and the more or less mythological or religious scenes framed and sometimes wrapped in Nature that the Giorgione painted, are not – evidently – full- fledged paintings, but it is difficult to imagine the breakfast of Manet or versions of Claude Monet without remembering those. The observation of such metaphysical evolution in the conception of painting helps to understand the keys to plenaryism as a school and revolution without space or time.

But the landscape area where the definition of plenaryism won the category of painting school (and continues to manifest itself as such to the point of having mimicked the fact itself), were the sea coasts (already present in the intuition of Constable or Courbet) in general and the beaches in particular. As Linda Nochlin concludes, the last chapter of Realism was painted outdoors, by the sea.

Expansion of plenaryism in landscape schools.

Plein air appeared at the beginning of the 19th century in England thanks to John Constable and Richard Parks Bonington. Plenerism becomes the basis of the aesthetics of artists for whom light and air acquire independent significance and purely pictorial interest. The object itself is not consciously drawn, hardly expressed in concrete silhouettes, or completely disappears. This technique was very popular among the French impressionists (it was then that the open air as a term was widely used). Artists such as Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Jean-Francois Millet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and not least Claude Monetcontributed to the development of plein air painting.

Painting in natural light was known for a long time and was used mainly for creating sketches. However, among the artists of the Barbizon school and the Impressionists, this painting technique received a new life.

Features of plein air painting
Impressionism, in general, is a prime example of the artist’s work in the open air. Famous art critic J.-L. Castagnari wrote:

“They [impressionists] perceive nature in such a way that it turns out to be anything but boring and banal. Their painting is full of life, swift, easy… They do not strive for exact reproduction, but are limited by general perception… They are impressionists in the sense that they reproduce not the landscape itself, but the impression caused by this landscape… Thus, they depart from reality and completely move to the position of idealism. ”

It was the impressionists who raised the etude, performed in the open air, to the level of full-fledged independent paintings. Impressionists tried to convey their own impressions of the world as accurately as possible – for the sake of this goal they abandoned the existing academic rules of painting and created their own, excellent method. Its essence was to convey with the help of separate strokes of pure paints the external impression of light, shadow, their reflection on the surface of objects. This method created the impression of a dissolution of the form in the surrounding light – air space. Claude Monet wrote about his work:

“My merit is that I wrote directly from nature, trying to convey my impressions of the most unstable and changing phenomena”.

In modern times, training in open air often becomes one of the fundamental elements in teaching painting in various, artistic and educational institutions and is part of painting from nature.

Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century, working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school, Hudson River School, and Impressionists.

Many artists from Europe meet in Rome and go to paint outdoors. Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) performs landscape sketches, in oil, in Rome and its surroundings (works exhibited at the Louvre Museum). Also a theoretician and pedagogue, he wrote in 1799 his “Advice to a Student on painting and particularly on the genre of Landscape 1 “. This practice of “outdoor painting” spread in France around the middle of the XIXth century, with certain members of the Barbizon School, such as Charles-François Daubignyor independent painters like Eugène Boudin who influenced, in a considerable way, the future impressionists who find their master in the person of Edouard Manet 2.

Among the oldest works of painting on the motif, let us quote those of Alexandre-François Desportes (1661-1743), sketches painted in oil on paper. The subjects are landscapes with representation of the flora and fauna, in preparation for paintings, hunting scenes in particular, made for Louis XIV and Louis XV. Some of these works feature prominently in the Louvre Museum or the Museum of Hunting and Nature in Paris. In 1817, Achille Etna Michallon (1796-1822) was the first winner of the ” Prix de Rome pour le paysage historique”. Among other pupils, he had Corot, who produced from 1825 to 1828, a series of landscapes in Italy in particular! Corot will continue throughout his career to paint outdoors, on the motif; he was one of the precursors of the Barbizon School, going to paint at Fontainebleau.

In 1830, the Barbizon School in France, enabled artists like Charles-François Daubigny and Théodore Rousseau to more accurately depict the appearance of outdoor settings in various light and weather conditions. In the late 1800s, the en plein air approach was incorporated with the impressionists’ style, and artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille began creating their work outdoors. From France, the movement expanded to America, starting in California then moving to other American locales notable for their natural light qualities, including the Hudson River Valley in New York.

It’s the end of the 19th and early 20th century that outdoor paint is booming with the appearance of colors in tubes (1841). These allow artists to move around easily, even if most of the time, they complete their painting in the studio. Their concern then becomes to paint nature as it appears to them, in the light of the present moment. The Impressionists paint landscapes not for their picturesque side but for the atmospheric effects, accounting for the different aspects that a motif can take on depending on the light conditions and therefore the hours of the day, hence the appearance of the series (Cathedrals andMillstones of Monet). In a work entitled “History of Impressionist Painters” (Paris, published 1939), Théodore Duret will write in particular “the great innovation of the Impressionists: outdoor painting”.

However, attitudes within the Impressionist movement were mixed: Degas refused to “paint outdoors” for lack of time, unlike Renoir, who, according to him, “can do whatever he wants”.

After the Impressionists, the 20th century, many artists around the world painted in the open air; among them are some French, André Derain, Albert Marquet, Charles Camoin, Henri Manguin or Italian Francesco Filippini. Relatively speaking, outdoor painters of the late 20th and the beginning of the 21th century with the Impressionists share the same pictorial approach,“Namely the rendering of the outdoors and the effect produced by the constant and imperceptible variations of light on the elements. These artists are working on a new way of painting, linked to a new way of seeing. For them, it is a matter of transcribing an immediate sensation, of rendering the luminous effects of the sky and the water, the colored vibration of their changing effects. ” (Théodore Duret, cited work.)

The Macchiaioli were a group of Italian painters active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century, who, breaking with the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian academies of art, did much of their painting outdoors in order to capture natural light, shade, and colour. This practice relates the Macchiaioli to the French Impressionists who came to prominence a few years later, although the Macchiaioli pursued somewhat different purposes. Their movement began in Florence in the late 1850s.

The Newlyn School in England is considered another major proponent of the technique in the latter 19th century. The popularity of painting en plein air increased in the 1840s with the introduction of paints in tubes (like those for toothpaste). Previously, painters made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil.

The act of outdoor painting from observation has been continually popular well into the 21st century.Today, landscape painting is present in contemporary art. This movement, which we sometimes call indifferently “landscape painting, painting on the motif, outdoor painting, nomadic art” is represented by artists like David Hockney, Per Kirkeby, Peter Doig, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Klauss Fussman, Vincent Bioulès, Alexandre Hollan… It is particularly dynamic on the West Coast of the United States with the California Plein-Air Revival.

Equipment and challenges
It was during the mid-19th century that the ‘box easel’, typically known as the ‘French box easel’ or ‘field easel’, was invented. It is uncertain who developed it, but these highly portable easels with telescopic legs and built-in paint box and palette made it easier to go into the forest and up the hillsides. Still made today, they remain a popular choice (even for home use) since they fold up to the size of a brief case and thus are easy to store.

The Pochade Box is a compact box that allows the artist to keep all their supplies and palette within the box and have the work on the inside of the lid. Some designs allow for a larger canvas which can be held by clamps built into the lid. There are designs which can also hold a few wet painting canvases or panels within the lid. These boxes have a rising popularity as while they are mainly used for plein air painting, can also be used in the studio, home, or classroom. Since pochade boxes are mainly used for painting on location, the canvas or work surface may be small, usually not more than 20 inches (50 cm).

Challenges include the type of paint used to paint outdoors, animals, bugs, onlookers, and environmental conditions such as weather. Acrylic paint may harden and dry quickly in warm, sunny weather and it cannot be reused. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the challenge of painting in moist or damp conditions with precipitation. The advent of plein air painting predated the invention of acrylics. The traditional and well-established method of painting en plein air incorporates the use of oil paint.

French impressionist painters such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir advocated plein air painting, and much of their work was done outdoors in the diffuse light of a large white umbrella. Claude Monet was an avid en plein air artist who deduced that to seize the closeness and likeness of an outside setting at a specific moment one had to be outside to do so rather than just paint an outside setting in their studio. In the second half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century in Russia, painters such as Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin and I. E. Grabar were known for painting en plein air.

But enthusiasts of plein air painting were not limited to the Old World. American impressionists too, such as those of the Old Lyme school, were avid painters en plein air. American impressionist painters noted for this style during this era included Guy Rose, Robert William Wood, Mary DeNeale Morgan, John Gamble, and Arthur Hill Gilbert. In Canada, the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson are examples of en plein air advocates.

Barbizon (Seine-et-Marne), thus became one of the mythical places of the pre-impressionist period in France (school of Barbizon). From 1830, what is still a hamlet of lumberjacks will indeed welcome to the Ganne inn, all the painters who come to seek inspiration from unspoiled nature. Later, they share their stays between Barbizon and Chailly-en-Bière, finding their subjects in the countryside or the nearby Fontainebleau forest.
The Normandy coast (Le Havre, Honfleur) attracts the Impressionists
The banks of the Seine at Argenteuil (Val-d’Oise): Monet, Sisley then Signac
Chatou (Yvelines), meeting of the Impressionists and the Fauves, who were regulars at the restaurant la Fournaise
Auvers-sur-Oise (Val-d’Oise), last stop for Van Gogh, and Pontoise where Cézanne and Pissarro settled
Moret-sur-Loing (Seine et Marne) and its church which Sisley never got tired of
Grez-sur-Loing, “discovered” by Jean-Baptiste Corot and where a community of Scandinavian artists settled in the 1880s (Carl Larsson and his wife Karin, Peder Severin Krøyer, Michael and Anna Ancher, Christian Krohg)
The Sainte-Victoire mountain celebrated by Cezanne