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Plein Air Painting

According to the Artlex Art Dictionary, the term "plein air" is taken from the French phrase "en plein air." It is used to describe works of art painted outdoors rather than in the studio.

Even when painters moved from the direct application of paint on a wall to painting on canvas, it was still difficult to paint outdoors.  A breakthrough came when the paint tube was invented in 1841 by American portrait painter John G. Rand.  Soon all kinds of other portable equipment began to appear.  No longer required to work from sketches and memory alone, artists began to look at landscape painting in a different way.

In the 19th century, plein air became popular among impressionists and other artists.  Claude Monet is remembered for “Haystacks at Giverny” and was known to paint outside in all kinds of weather conditions.  Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper were also known to work outdoors.
Today there are many professional and amateur painters who relish a day outside with palette and brush. Though plein air painting is not considered a style or movement, you will find artists who use the label to indicate their on-site painting approach.

For more information about plein air, try these DVDs, books and Web sites:


Sunlight on Oak Creek : Applying the Lessons of Plein Air to Photographic Reference

Winslow Homer: an American Original


Painting Missouri: the Counties en Plein Air

Plein Air Painting: in Watercolor and Oil

Landscape Painting Inside & Out

Sargent:  Painting Out-of-Doors

Web sites:

Plein Air Painters of America
Plein Air Art

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