En plein air  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

En plein air is a French expression which means "in the open air", and is particularly used to describe the act of painting in the outside environment rather than indoors (such as in a studio). In English alfresco has the same meaning, however in Italian the term al fresco has a rather different one, either in jail or simply cool air.

Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school and Impressionism. The popularity of painting en plein air increased with introduction in the 1870s of paints in tubes (resembling modern toothpaste tubes). Previously, each painter made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil. The Newlyn School in England is considered another major location of such painting in the latter 19th century.

It was during this period that the "Box Easel" was invented - typically known as the French Box Easel. It is uncertain who developed it first, but these highly portable easels with telescoping legs and built in paint box and palette made treks into the forest and up the hillsides less onerous. 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 store away quite easily.

French Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir advocated en plein air painting, and much of their work was done outdoors. American Impressionists, too, such as of the Old Lyme school, were avid painters en plein air. In the second half of 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. American Impressionist painters noted for this style during this era included, Guy Rose, Mary Denil Morgan, John Gamble, and Arthur Hill Gilbert. The Canadian Group of Seven originated by Tom Thomson and artist Sherie Sloane are examples of plein-air advocates.


The popularity of outdoor painting has remained constant throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.


See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "En plein air" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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