Plein Air American Artist - Art history -
American artist Henry Ward Ranger painting on Mason’s Island near Mystic, Connecticut, Courtesy Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut

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.

The American artist Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916) studied in Europe, and when he returned to the United States in 1888, he began to exhibit with members of the National Academy of Design (NAD), the American Watercolor Society, and the Society of American Artists.

In the summer of 1899, Ranger became of the founders of the late Barbizon art colony at Old Lyme, Connecticut, that centered around the Florence Griswold house. As this photograph of Ranger shows, he was a devoted plein air painter and often taught others to work outdoors directly from nature.

Ranger’s most important association was with the NAD, a prestigious organization of artists (and, later, architects) that elected him to be a full academician in 1906. He generously showed his support for the NAD and started a program to share paintings by both current and past NAD members with public institutions. He also bequeathed his entire estate, stipulating that the income be used to purchase paintings by living American artists. Ranger further directed that these pictures were to be loaned to any public American museum, and that the Smithsonian Institution could use his money to acquire any work it desired, if it did so between 10 and 15 years after an artist’s death.

In 2008 the NAD sold two of its great masterpiece paintings for more than $13 million.

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

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