Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is a Plein Air Painting?

"Plein Air" simply translated, means painted while out in the open air.

Artists have always painted and sketched outdoors but these works were traditionally thought of as studies for larger studio work. The French Impressionists were among the first to present their outdoor works as finished pieces. Their aim was to portray modern life in all it's immediacy.

I am a plein air painter... or so I thought. I've been painting outdoors for years. So, lately I've been surprised by a new and more rigid definition of plein air and by the vehemence of those who insist on only this definition. Plein air "purists" maintain that a work has to be completed rapidly outdoors with little or no revision back in the studio.
It's interesting that past artists both here and abroad who made the plein air movement popular, never imposed that condition on themselves. They didn't find it necessary to place limitations on their working method in order to feel that their outdoor work was valid. The point was to produce the best work possible.

The plein air movement is stronger than ever today. There are legions of artists who can paint a scene in 2 hours or less and some people would argue that this ability is a sign of their talent. Often, the results are beautiful. But equally often I'm left wishing for those further touches of paint that earlier artists had no problem adding if it aided their painting. I think the unique and recognizable styles of these earlier artists is partly due to the fact that they painted as well as they could indoors and out with no thought to what critics might say about how they arrived at their results.

What do you think determines what a plein air painting is??


  1. Plein Air painting always starts outdoors..... Landscape or figurative. Clearly one are purists to finish on location but...most take their studies into the studio for larger works. No matter what our magazine PleinAir is devoted to both.

    1. Eric, that welcoming and open minded view is one of the many things I like about PleinAir Magazine.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...