Tuesday, 11 May 2010

What is plein-air painting?

Out of door study by John Singer Sargent

The Plein Air Blog run by American Artist is back and hopefully this time they've worked out how to keep it being a 'live' blog!
To mark the occasion I've devised a list of definitions of plein air from various sources. You'll notice that the emphasis varies slightly with each one.

I was rather amazed to find out just how many American Museums don't try to make fine art more more accessible through the use of a glossary of terms on their website.

Different definitions of Plein Air
You may well notice when reading through these definitions that they don't agree.

National Gallery of Art, London
Plein Air
Plein Air is the French for open air. The term is used to describe the practice of artists painting before a landscape or other chosen subject out of doors, rather than in a studio or workshop. Before the end of the 18th century outdoor work was usually restricted to drawings and watercolours, but in the 19th century the increasing popularity of sketching landscapes in oil developed gradually into the practice of painting finished pictures in front of the motif.

Artists such as Corot and Daubigny frequently painted out of doors, but it was the Impressionists who embraced plein-air painting with the greatest enthusiasm.
Tate Gallery - Glossary
Plein air
French term meaning out of doors. Refers to practice of painting entire finished picture out of doors as opposed to simply making preparatory studies or sketches. Pioneered by Constable in Britain c.1813-17, then from c.1860 became fundamental to Impressionism. Important technical approach in development of Naturalism. Subsequently became extremely widespread and part of practice of Rural Naturalists for example. Sometimes taken to extremes e.g. by Stanhope Forbes of whom there exists a photograph of him painting on a beach in high wind with canvas and easel secured by guy ropes.
Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art
Plein Air Painting (extract)
Typically, painting a picture in the open air requires rapid composition and brushwork, neither of which is feasible unless the artist is familiar with the fundamentals of drawing. Thus it is no surprise to learn that many, if not most, outdoor painters were academically trained in life-drawing and perspective.
Art Lex
en plein air - French for "in the open air," used chiefly to describe paintings that have been executed outdoors, rather than in the studio. Plein air painting was taken up by the English painters Richard Parks Bonington (1802-1828) and John Constable (1776-1837), and the French Barbizon School, and it became central to Impressionism. Its popularity was aided by the development of easily portable painting equipment and materials, including paints sold in tubes. The equivalent term in Italian is "alfresco," which is also used by English-speakers. (pr. ə pləh-nayr)
En plein air (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ plɛˈnɛʁ]) is a French expression which means "in the open air", and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.
Plein air is a term derived from the French phrase en plein air, which literally means 'in the open air'. It's a familiar concept today, but in the late 1800s when the Impressionists ventured out of their studios into nature to investigate and capture the effects of sunlight and different times of days on a subject, it was quite revolutionary.
Merriam Webster Dictionary
en plein air
Pronunciation: \äⁿ-ple-ner\Function: foreign term
Etymology: French: in the open air
The Free Dictionary
plein-air [ˌpleɪnˈɛə (French) plɛnɛr]
(Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) of or in the manner of various French 19th-century schools of painting, esp impressionism, concerned with the observation of light and atmosphere effects outdoors
[from French phrase en plein air in the open (literally: full) air]
plein-airist [ˌpleɪnˈɛərɪst] n
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003
Humanities Web
Plein Air
(French term for 'open air')
A painting that gives the feeling of being outdoors. The Impressionists tried actively to convey the open air feeling in their work. The term is also used to describe landscapes that have been painted outdoors.

Gamblin Artists Colors - Glossary
Plein Air - A painting done outside rather than in a studio. The term comes from the French en plein air, meaning 'in the open air'.
Artist Tours Group
Definition: en plein air
Pronounced As: en-plan-âr, Fr. en-plen-er [Fr.,=in-open-air],term used for paintings or drawings made directly from nature and infused with a feeling of the open air. Painting outdoors is a relatively recent practice; the impressionists and the painters of the Barbizon school made plein-air painting an important dimension of their landscape work.
An alternative definition

Here's my definition
Plein air is French term meaning outdoors / in the open air. Painting plein air is essentially about observing and painting subjects from life outdoors. This practice increased in popularity in the nineteenth century after the invention of tubes for oil paint. Plein air painters can paint in any media and usually paint landscapes. They typically attempt to capture the impression of the atmospheric effects in terms of light and colour as these cannot be recorded by a camera. Some painters who paint plein air will always finish what they start outdoors; while others (such as Monet in later years) are content to start a painting plein air, make a record of the light and colour and bring it back to the studio for completion.
What's your definition? I'll publish the best ones in a linked post.

1 comment:

Casey Klahn said...

I think you have nailed it, Katherine. Your definition covers all of the considerations, and qualifies where needed. Well done.


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