Plein Air Art - Looking Back (Part 5) / by Jeannine Cook

In the previous four parts of this look-back on artists' ways of depicting landscapes and nature, I had great fun seeking out works to illustrate some of the amazing heritage we all have as artists, and especially those of us who work en plein air. This is the final part of the blog.

 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, American artists had been similarly inspired by both the Romantic Movement and the amazing natural beauty they were discovering all around them.  The Hudson River School started quite early in the 19th century, but the first protagonists, like Thomas Cole, soon yielded to a second generation of artists who travelled the length and breadth of America.

 The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton), 1836, Thomas Cole, Metropolitan Museum, New York

The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton), 1836, Thomas Cole, Metropolitan Museum, New York

Again, in the Thyssen Museum, I found a wonderful collection of American 19th century landscape artists: Bierstadt, Church, Luminist John Frederick Kennsett, and, later, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast.  Somehow, their energy in depicting the outdoors was totally infectious! It made me remember back to wonderful art I have seen of that period of plein air adepts – John Henry Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, Frederick Carl Frieseke William Merritt Chase, even George Bellows. The Californian Impressionists followed in their footsteps.

 Street in Nassau, oil on cardboard, c. 1877-80, Albert Bierstadt, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

Street in Nassau, oil on cardboard, c. 1877-80, Albert Bierstadt, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

 Tropical Landscape, oil n canvas, c. 1855, Frederic Edwin Church, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

Tropical Landscape, oil n canvas, c. 1855, Frederic Edwin Church, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

 Beach Scene, oil on canvas, 1869, Winslow Homer, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

Beach Scene, oil on canvas, 1869, Winslow Homer, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

 September Clouds, pastel on canvas, c. 1891, Childe Hassam, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

September Clouds, pastel on canvas, c. 1891, Childe Hassam, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

 Ilex Wood, Mallorca, oil on canvas, 1908, John Singer Sargent, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

Ilex Wood, Mallorca, oil on canvas, 1908, John Singer Sargent, Museo Thyssen, Madrid

 A Wintery Scene, George Bellows, oil on canvas, 1911, courtesy of Telfair Museums, Savannah

A Wintery Scene, George Bellows, oil on canvas, 1911, courtesy of Telfair Museums, Savannah

Every country seemed soon to have artists working en plein air.  The more people learned about the intricacies and beauties of the natural world, the more acceptable landscape paintings became, especially those that were painted outdoors.  In Spain, for instance, plein air painting was introduced by the Belgian Carlos de Haes about the middle of the 19th century. He travelled widely and produced some lyrically beautiful studies which he later, in the traditional manner, used as the basis for studio work.  His heirs were artists like Mariano Fortuny and Joaquin Sorolla.

 Paisaje de Montana, 1872, Carlos de Haes,, oil on paper,  Prado Museum, Madrid

Paisaje de Montana, 1872, Carlos de Haes,, oil on paper,  Prado Museum, Madrid

 Un lazareto, Mallorca, 1877, oil on paper, Carlos de Haes, Prado Museum, Madrid

Un lazareto, Mallorca, 1877, oil on paper, Carlos de Haes, Prado Museum, Madrid

 Chicos en la playa, Joaquín Sorolla, Children on the beach, 1910, Prado Museum, Madrid

Chicos en la playa, Joaquín Sorolla, Children on the beach, 1910, Prado Museum, Madrid

By the time the 20th century dawned, working en plein air seemed just a normal part of many artists' ways or creating art.  However, with the ebb and flow of fashions, many artists turned away from outdoors painting after World War I.  Modern/abstract art began to predominate, and even when artists still worked from nature, like Georgia O'Keeffe, it was somewhat unusual, especially in America.

 Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1930,  Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Burnett Foundation

Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1930,  Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Burnett Foundation

Today, it seems that celebrating nature by painting, drawing and even photographing is again most natural and understandable. Perhaps indeed, artists work en plein air with a sense of urgency for humanity seems ever intent on ruining the beautiful, the fragile and, let's face it, the life-sustaining. We have to record, understand, create according to our individual vision, often with a deep feeling of communion and reverence for the world in which we are working and creating. Perhaps that is why we artists continue to go out in all weathers, all over the world, to work en plein air.