Plein Air

En plein air is a French expression meaning “in the open air,” and refers to the act of painting outdoors with the artist’s subject in full view. Plein air artists capture the spirit and essence of a land­scape or sub­ject by incor­po­rat­ing nat­ural light, color and move­ment into their works.

Artists have long painted out­doors, but in the mid-1800s paint­ing land­scapes and other scenes on loca­tion finally became prac­ti­cal due to two impor­tant inven­tions: paints in tubes and the box easel. These highly portable easels, with telescopic 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 are easy to store.

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, in the diffuse light provided by a large white umbrella. In the second half of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth 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 Impressionists, too, such as those of the Old Lyme school, were avid painters en plein air. American Impressionist painters noted for this style during this era included, Guy Rose, Robert William Wood, Mary DeNeale Morgan, John Gamble, and Arthur Hill Gilbert. The Canadian Group of Seven and Tom Thomson are examples of en plein air advocates.

The popularity of outdoor painting has endured throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. This long-celebrated art form is the platform for countless festivals around the country – and the world – and we are honored to continue the tradition, as this will be the 6th year of plein air festivals in Aspen.