What is Plein Air?
Here is a brief history. Before the 1800's art supplies were bulky, expensive, hard to find and largley hand-made by the artists themselves. Their subject matter was restricted to painting noblemen or clergymen or illustrating stories from the bible or mythology. Little did the artists of the 1800's know that a revolution in subject matter and painting materials was just around the corner. This revolution began quietly enough with a small group of artists in Barbazon, just outside of Paris. They believed that an artist should forget about traditional painting formulas and trust their own eyes to find "truth in nature" and went outside to find it. These "realists" as they were called began painting peasants and everyday scenes of the countryside. They were assisted in their efforts by the new inventions of portable easels and "paint in tubes". By the mid 19th century, there was a small artistic revolution in France lead by Monet, Renoir and Degas called "impressionism". This movement relied on plein air painting and developed new ideas that came from observing changing color in sunlight. They changed their pallet colors in an attempt to paint "light on form" and later, to simply paint the light itself. From France, impressionism and the concepts of painting "en plein air" spread worldwide.
You may or may not have heard it used before. What the heck is "plein air"? Well... it is a French word. Roughly translated, it means "open air".
It describes painting that is done on location and inspired by nature, as opposed to painting in a studio from photographs or sketches. The term was first used in the 1800's to describe the artwork created by the Impressionists.
Today, painting "en plein air" is a pursuit that continues to challenge the finest artists in the world. Associations of plein air paintings have sprung up all over the world dedicated to perserving it's rich artistic heritage. Florida's association is called Plein Air Florida. You can visit my "Links" page to link to them and other plein air organizations I belong to. On the websites listed there you can find links for painters, groups and activities involved in plein air and impressionist painting worldwide.
What is going on now?