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Impressionist Painting En Plein Air

Impressionist Painting En Plein Air

Author: Ian McConnell

Analyze qualities present in French Impressionism and en plein-air paintings.

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to the subset of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell and today's lesson is about Impressionist Painting "en plein air." As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the motivation for painting "en plein air," and identify examples of Impressionist painting.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. The first and only key term today is "en plein air," which literally means in the outdoors.

The big idea for today is that the idea of "in the open air" encouraged painters to paint outside and away from the studio-- a practice made even more practical by the invention of tube-based paints.

And today we're looking at artwork from between 1875 and 1894.

We'll be traveling today to London, England, and Paris, France. So as I just mentioned, "en plein air" literally means to be outside. And this is one of the big changes we see with respect to the painting process. Artists moved outside of the studio. And the possibility of this was due to the invention of collapsible metal paint tubes.

Pigments could be very expensive, and the possibility of wasting paint or mixing on site was more trouble than it was worth. The collapsible metal tube kept paint fresh. It was pre-mixed and ready for action, and ultra portable.

Now this invention was so important the Impressionist artist Renoir once commented-- and I'm paraphrasing here-- but that Impressionism would have been impossible without metal paint tubes.

This lack of restriction facilitated color experimentation and the ability to paint spontaneously. During the 19th century, there was an overall increase in the amount of leisure time. And artists, like Renoir, used the advantages of painting en plein air to capture the moments.

In addition, the "Haussmannization" of Paris literally opened things up outdoors, as well as in the streets of Paris. And the subject of urbanism, or the lives and activities of people in an urban environment, was also another popular form of subject matter for Impressionist painters.

The artist Claude Monet's paintings are often explorations in capturing the effects of light in nature, such as on the surface of water, or on the surface of a man made object. And an excellent example of Monet's ability to capture the effects of light in fleeting moments, is evident in Monet's series of Rouen Cathedral paintings. He made a number of these, all essentially the same view, from the same vantage point, but painted them in different conditions, and at different times of the day, to explore how the facade of Rouen Cathedral changed in its appearance depending upon outside conditions.

So there are a number of very important and talented female Impressionist artists that come to attention during this period. Although women were becoming more and more prevalent in the artistic community, they still faced the restrictions of propriety that society placed on them. Restrictions that men didn't face. So as a result, their scope of subject matter was much more limited.

But Morisot was one such bourgeois-- which is a social middle class-- woman who took what was socially available to her, and embraced it. Her themes focus on the lives of women and depict women engaged in female-centric leisure activities, and celebrate the virtues of womanhood. Her painting, Summer's Day, shows a leisurely excursion onto a popular Parisian lake. Even though a man is controlling the boat, he isn't depicted. Rather, it emphasizes the closeness among the two friends in the boat, a fleeting moment of quality time spent together, and depicted with a painterly skill and style that has come to be closely associated with Impressionist art.

Mary Cassatt was an American painter who set off to Europe in her youth to study painting. And like Morisot, she was a very talented and capable painter who was able to portray considerable depth within the limited scope of acceptable subject matter for women of the time. Now even within this painting titled, The Boating Party, Cassatt's composition draws the viewer into a more intimate unspoken moment among the riders in the boat. The woman sort of awkwardly holds the toddler as she gazes in the direction of the boat rower.

And we're left questioning what the relationship is between the man and women on the boat. Is she part of a larger party that is situated, like the viewer, behind the rower? Is she looking at the man rowing, and is he looking at her? Or is she staring through him, lost in thought, which could explain her awkward grasp on the child? Cassatt doesn't really offer any answers, just sets the stage for the viewer's interpretation, again, a fleeting moment in time between two people.

Now James Whistler's painting of "Nocturne in Black and Gold" is an example of an impressionist painting en plein air that tries to capture the atmospheric conditions and experience of watching a fireworks display at night. It's a form of Impressionism, I feel that almost borders on abstraction. But once the subject matter is made clear, things start to come to focus.

And a greater appreciation of Whistler's ability at contrasting the dark evening with the light and smoke from the exploding fireworks is evident. Now like Monet's series of Rouen Cathedral paintings, it's a painting whose charm comes from its ability to capture the beauty of a passing moment, and immortalizing and sharing an instance that may have otherwise simply faded away.

Now that we've reached the end the lesson, let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you explain the motivation for painting en plein air? And can you identify examples of Impressionist painting?

Once again, the big idea for today is that the idea of "in the open air" encouraged painters to paint outside and away from the studio-- a practice made even more practical by the invention of tube-based paints.

There you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Terms to Know
En Plein Air

Literally "in the outdoors".