Pleinairism and Artist colonies
En plein air (French pleinair: open air) denotes a phenomeon that was in full swing in the second half of the 19th century, however, it had been in existence since earlier days.
In general, en plein air refers to a way of painting that is executed in nature, opposed to studio art, which is made in the workshop or inside in general. Landscape were mostly depicted on plein air paintings, but also portraits or scenic depictions can be conceived as plein air painting. En plein air works of art are special in terms of their intensive relation to the reality depicted, as particular light and color effects as well as the natural luminance can be directly transferred to the picture.
Plein air painting seems to have been executed as early as in the days of Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci describes the advantages of natural light in one of his treatises, and experts say that some early 16th century painters, for instance members of the "Donauschule" (Danube School), were painting en plein air.
In the days of Dutch Baroque, which gave birth to the genre landscape, en plein air experienced an enormous boom, even though it was just studies that were made in front of nature, the painting itself was still made in the studio.
It was the natural philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that brought the development of en plein air forward in the late 18th and early 19th century, the relation between artist and nature was to undergo changes soon, as numerous theoretic writings, often based on Rousseau, on landscape art deliver proof of. England was the country that then most excelled in en plein air. the romantic-realistic landscape art of John Constable (1776-1837) and, going even beyond his studies, William Turner (1775-1851), had a relevant influence on the further development of en plein air and Impressionism. In Germany it was Carl Blechen (1798-1840) who showed plein airist tendencies, making the sun's shimmering light the actual subject of his works.
But it was not until the middle of the 19th century in France that en plein air would become a broader movement in art; it even became fashionable to go outdoors - and to thus express an anti-academic approach - all over Europe.
The School of Barbizon marks the beginning of this development. Its model (even though there had been artists' colonies in earlier days) was imitated by artists all over Europe. Modernist painters relocated to rural regions and founded colonies, the objective was to abandon the torpidity of academic teachings by painting outdoors in front of nature and to capture the natural light. Urban flight, longing for nativeness in nature in contrats to an increasing industrialization and a generally positivistic attitude promoted the formation of artists' colonies in the second half of the 19th century.
Generally, life in nature was accompanied by a plein air concept of art, even though artists in colonies did not exclusively paint outside, nor did they only execute landscapes. The frequent depiction of folkloristic motifs and rural subjects must also be emphaiszed. Then again, it was the aspect of plein air painting that shaped the artists' colonies and that revolutionized art in general, regardless of these associations. Realism and Impressionism were based on the accomplishments of en plein air.
Even artists of Expressionism were often working outdoors. The "Brücke" (Bridge) as well as the Murnau artists Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky had congregated in colonies and found inspiration in the effects of natural light, even though their concept of art did not necessarily require this method.