An Exploration of Plein Air

With Fresh Paint arriving soon at The Copley Society of Art, we wanted to revisit the concept and development the fantastic process of plein air painting.

(John Singer Sargent painting outdoors)

En plein air is a French phrase meaning “in the open air” and is often translated as simply, “outdoors”. To paint en plein air, the artist finds an outdoor location and paints the landscape they see before them. In the 17th and 18th centuries, plein air painting was used mainly for studies for larger works of art in the studio. What we know as plein air painting now was developed after the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1800’s.

In 1841 the paint tube was invented, and shortly after came the invention of the portable easel. The paint tube allowed for a wider variety of paint color, removed the tedious task of mixing pigment with oil in the artist’s process, and allowed for easy transportation with the portable easel.

(Monet Painting in his Garden, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1873)

Plein air painting became very favorable to the Impressionists, who aimed to capture scenes ‘in the moment’. Change in lighting was an important theme in many series of Monet’s paintings, while Renoir chose to capture the ‘fleeting moment’ of French middle class gatherings. Through direct observation, the Impressionists were able to truthfully express the idea of a moment and used intense, bright colors to convey the outdoor experience.

(Water Lilies, Claude Monet, 1916)

The Copley Society of Art’s Fresh Paint day will be held on Sunday, April 23rd. Many Copley Society members will be out and about painting the Boston landscapes en plein air, and bring back their freshly painted works to be auctioned off at our Fresh Paint Gala. This event is the largest and most important fundraiser for the Copley Society, helping to support our many programs that benefit the art community. Come by between April 23rd and May 4th to view these contemporary Boston plein air paintings and bid on a few paintings to help support a good cause! 

by Courtney DiPasquale