James McNeill Whistler plein air artist - OutdoorPainter.com
Coast Scene, Bathers James McNeill Whistler 1884/85, oil on panel, 5 7/16 x 8 11/16 in. The Art Institute of Chicago

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.

James McNeill Whistler

Having spent most of his life in Paris and Lon-don, American-born James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) drew inspiration from a host of artistic influences, including the Dutch masters, Spanish Baroque, French contemporary Realists, Japanese decorative art, and the Pre-Raphaelites, to develop his unique painting style. Rejecting the popular notion that art should contain moral or historical meaning, he focused instead on creating harmony and effecting mood through the use of color, tone, brush-stroke, texture, and composition.

Painted en plein air, this intimately scaled seascape marked a distinct shift from the artist’s studio-produced nocturnes of the previous decade. Here he used the sparest of compositional elements to evoke the serene coastal atmosphere on the spot. Broad horizontal bands of blues and gray suggest sky, ocean, and sand, with dabs of thin paint giving economical yet expressive form to around a dozen figures on the windswept beach. Though the brushstrokes are predominantly heavy, the painting is imbued with a sense of lightness and delicacy, heightening our perception of this scene as a fleeting moment in time.

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