William Merritt Chase plein air seaside painting
William Merritt Chase, "At the Seaside," c. 1892, oil on canvas, 20 x 34 in. Collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967

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.

Plein Air Heritage: William Merritt Chase (1849–1916)

William Merritt Chase was already a popular artist in Manhattan in 1891, when prominent art patron Janet Hoyt invited him to Shinnecock, Long Island, to start an open-air school of art.

At the time, plein air painting was still relatively new to the United States, but growing rapidly in popularity. Each summer for the next 12 years, a hundred or so students flocked to the beach resort for Chase’s outdoor classes. Two days a week, he instilled in them the virtues of dispensing with sketches or preparatory drawings and painting directly on canvas in the presence of nature.

The decade-plus that Chase spent with the school would mark a new chapter in his art and family life. While the artist was busy teaching or painting, his wife and children — who were featured often in his plein air work of the area — enjoyed the wild countryside and beaches near their summer home. Chase likewise thrived on the change of pace and scenery.

As can be seen above, the artist’s output from Shinnecock consists primarily of loose and luminous, high-key landscapes, and is considered to be among the finest examples of American Impressionism.

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

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  1. Don’t forget the Peconic Impressionists! And the tradition continues today with many plein air painters out there! PALSPleinAir meets weekly on Long Island and, before COVID there were quite a few Plein Air events and shows! Long Island is a beautiful place to paint with lots of waterviews as well as historic areas and varied terrain. Farms, Oceans, Rivers,,,, and as if that’s not enough, we’ve got NYC right up the road!


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