En Plein Air Painting
The phrase "en plein air" simply means "in the open air". In the 1800s it became used to denote a style of
painting where the painting is done completely or mostly outdoors. In the 1500s to the 1800s artists
had done their drawings outdoors (and drawing outdoors was then called en plein air) but painting was confined to the studio. However, in the mid-1800s natural light became especially important to the new realistic Barbizon school. The Barbizon school advocated the abandonment of formalism and thought that painters should paint what they actually see.
This movement was aided by two innovations in art. First was the Box Easel. It folded up to the size of a brief case and was easy to store and to carry. Second was paint in tubes. Before, painters would make their own paints with mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil.
En plein air painting was essential for the Impressionist movement to take place. Impressionism is the painting of what the artist interprets as taking place at a certain place at a certain time. It is the changing of the shadows, the shimmering of the water, the movement of people. The Impressionists needed to be able to start and finish their paintings outdoors to be able to depict what they would later be so famous for – capturing their impression of life.
Sketch of Woman and Umbrella
Waterlilies at Giverny