Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Plein Air Painting and the Macchiaioli



My plein air painting time was cut short today when the thunder got too close for comfort and the rain kept diluting my paints!  So a quick start was finished up in the studio. No sense in wasting a perfectly good panel right? 

This is a good segue to my thoughts on an article in this month's issue of Plein Air Magazine. The article is titled Plein Air Painting: A Vehicle, Not a Destination written by Jean Stern, Executive Director, the Irvine Museum, Irvine, CA.

Stern gives us an informative history of painting outdoors. He begins with the invention of the soft metal, collapsible paint tube by John Rand in (1801-1873), with Winsor & Newton offering tubes of paint for sale the following year. Next, we are reminded that the Barbizon School under the leadership of Theodore Rousseau were the first plein air painters. Camille Corot, Narcisse Diaz de la Pena and Charles Francois Daubigny are also highlighted as prominent members of the Barbizon group.

Stern then brings up another group of anti-academic painters the Macchiaioli who worked in Tuscany in the 1850's They have largely been ignored by art historians, it was interesting learning about them. 

Hay Stacks by Giovanni Fattori, a leading artist in the Macchiaioli movement.

Vincenzo Cabianca, Marina presso Ladispoli

Then Stern takes the discussion in a different direction making the connection to French Impressionism, and talking of the challenge of painting under moving natural light.

But then we get to the point. Stern boldly asserts that the legitimacy of plein air painting has been "subverted to accommodate those who seek to appropriate the popularity and commercial success now attendant to that designation [plein air painter]."

Stern laments the fact the plein air painting has become a status symbol, to the point that in some groups you're not really a painter unless you're a plein air painter.  I have encountered this type of thinking and it's really such a shame that some artists think this way. The world is such a big place with room to spare for all who create. 

Stern believes that plein air paintings are just the beginning of a journey. While those little plein air gems can tend to sell well if they're well composed and executed, Stern believes that the plein air sketch confirms its reason for being when it leads to a refined, studio painted final work. Landscape is surely the most supreme of art subjects and it needs to be shown in a large format.

What do you think?

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