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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Plein air in the new year

A show at the Met, and painting in Lucca in the winter

A survey of plein air painting classes and tours in Italy inevitably shows a preference for the sunshine and palette of late spring through mid-fall; winter in Italy offers a different landscape and palette, not as immediately seductive. So if there is less inclination to paint out of doors these days, there are other ways to hone one’s skills. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has a show of French plein air painters up now through 21 April. The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850 documents both the recent appreciation of the genre and some lesser known artists, not to mention their ubiquitous fascination with the Italian landscape as subject. While plein air as a subject implies direct observation of Nature, it is wrong to think that observation is unmediated through the experience and skills of other painters’ observations. I’ve learned as much if not more about painting out of doors from looking at Corot or Valenciennes than from any particular subject. More information on the Met’s show is on their site here.

oil on primed (light raw umber, revealed in the sky) paper
In December I had the chance to be in Lucca, where the walls are such a compelling feature of the city’s image. They are also seductive subjects for outdoor painting, surrounded by a swath of green, their simple, powerful forms are enriched by the patina of time and their crown of diverse trees. Girdling the city, they are differently related to sun and light depending on orientation and time of day. Shown here is a sketch done in about an hour and a half, on an afternoon that started sunny and ended rather grey.

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