What is Plein Air Painting?

Plein Air Painting by Judith D'Agostino of Bulldog Canyon
Bulldog Canyon - Oil on Board - 8" x 10"


Plein air, is French word meaning 'open air', and is defined as painting or drawing done outside. The equivalent term in Italian is alfresco. With the invention of tube paint, artists were able to go outside and paint more easily. Prior to tube paint, artist had to mix dry pigment with linseed oil which made it very difficult to transport. As this form of painting became more popular with artists, so did their interest in painting the landscape and creating works that expressed the special qualities of outdoor light and its effect on the eye. The Impressionists and painters of the Barbizon school were champions of plein air and although plein air painting should not be considered as synonymous with Impressionism or quick sketching, it became central to Impressionism.  Indeed, the term plein air is largely associated with the Impressionist artists of the late 1800s and it spurred a movement where artists began to paint everyday life which was not a popular subject prior to the invention of tube paint.  The popularity was also aided by the development of portable painting equipment and materials too.  Stay tuned for that information in my next blog.



Below, I have added a few links to artists that painted en plein air for your convenience. In another blog, I will list contemporary plein air painters.



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Comments: 2
  • #1

    Hsiu Mckinney (Wednesday, 01 February 2017 04:51)

    Great information. Lucky me I recently found your blog by accident (stumbleupon). I have saved it for later!

  • #2

    Lloyd Volk (Wednesday, 01 February 2017 20:15)

    Outstanding post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I'd be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Many thanks!