Plein air art history - Claude Lorrain -
Claude Lorrain, "The Judgment of Paris," 1645-1646, oil on canvas, 44 3/16 x 58 7/8 in. Collection National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1969.1.1

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: Artist Claude Lorrain (1600-1682)

Looking at this outdoor sketch (below) from the vantage point of contemporary plein air painting, it has the appearance of a high-contrast preparatory sketch that might be used to develop a larger oil painting. The simplified design, strong diagonal thrust, and high-contrast values are exactly what one would want in a plan for a successful studio painting.

Plein air art history - Claude Lorrain -
Claude Lorrain, “An Artist Sketching,” ca. 1640, graphite and brown ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 12 3/4 in., Collection the British Museum, London

To verify that, one only needs to consider the large allegorical painting “The Judgment of Paris” (above), a work typical of those that earned Claude Lorrain his status as one of the greatest landscape painters of all times. The masterpiece, like the sketch, is composed with a strong pattern of light and dark shapes.

Claude was a prolific creator of drawings in ink and watercolor wash, and those fall into three fairly distinct groups. First, there were a large number of plein air sketches like the one reproduced here; second, there were studies for paintings; and finally, there were drawings that record completed paintings.

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

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