Plein air art history - Albert Edelfelt
Albert Edelfelt (right) paints with Axel Gallén (middle) and Louis Sparre (left) in Imatra, Finland, in 1893.

As a plein air painter, you are part of one of the largest art movements in history. Learn about those who have helped start this movement in some way, and be inspired to continue your own journey.

Our Plein Air Heritage

Albert Edelfelt (Finnish, 1854–1905)

Best known for his portraits of royalty and high society patrons, Albert Edelfelt developed a lifelong love of plein air painting in Paris, where he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts.

Although he spent 15 years in the City of Lights, it wasn’t until he returned to Finland that he found inspiration for the bulk of his plein air work — having completed only one large outdoor painting in all his time in France.

In 1879, the artist’s mother rented a summer villa in Haikko, near Porvoo, where he was born. Visiting her there, Erdelfelt fell in love with the archipelago and its residents, finding them an inexhaustible source of subject matter. In all, he spent 26 summers there, in between winter visits to Paris and St. Petersburg, and he painted some 220 works in and around the area.

Initially a strict realist, Edelfelt continued to work in Paris when he could, and as a result his landscapes and some of his less formal portraits became progressively looser, almost impressionistic. It’s unknown how far he might have pushed that approach, as he died suddenly of a heart attack in his beloved Haikko, at 51 years old.

plein air art history - Albert Edelfelt
Albert Edelfelt, “Winter Day in Helsinki Market Square, Study,” 1889, oil on wood, 12 2/5 x 16 in. Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum

Watch a documentary about the plein air painting movement to learn more about its history and evolution:


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