Plein Air

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Plein air, French for “open air,” is used to describe paintings created outdoors. In Italian, the term would be alfesco. In the 1870s, the growth of plein air painting flourished with the introduction of paints in tubes. (Previously, painters made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments with linseed oil.) French Impressionists, including Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edouard Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, advocated en plein air painting. Charles Webster Hawthorne, who is attributed with starting the art colony in Provincetown, came to Cape Cod to teach painting en plein air.

Taken directly from nature, plein air works are infused with atmosphere and show the influence of changing natural light on color. Painting from life allows artists to absorb sight, sound, temperature and humidity, and then interpret these sensations into paintings.

At plein air events, adults and children alike are enthralled by seeing paintings move from sketches to finished works, and delighted to meet so many accomplished artists. Plein air events organized by the Addison Art Gallery have received national coverage and are considered some of the region's most intriguing cultural events.


“The plein air experience is valuable in many ways that may not be immediately apparent to an outside observer. All your senses are involved when you are personally experiencing a location first hand.

The eye perceives light and shadows most acutely from direct observation. Also, the world is meant to be seen in three dimensions. Nothing substitutes for being there. Painting from memory is a challenge, but you cannot possibly remember the nuances of reality. Photography flattens space and distorts perspective and color. It can be helpful in the studio, but is not a real substitute for direct observation.

The plein-air experience also provides the artist a chance to essentially live within the painting. For example, when painting by the seashore the artist experiences the sound of the waves and the gulls, feels the sun and the breeze, watches the tides change and the boats come and go. The painter exists within that space and is one with the environment. Ideally, all that sensory inspiration will filter through the artist’s hand and come together in the new reality of the painted canvas.” — Paul Schulenburg


“Collectors, fellow artists, and friends often comment on my work as having distinct and engaging “atmosphere”. I am so very appreciative of this recurring compliment. It is the air surrounding the landscape that I hope to depict in my paintings. The air is an unseen filter that guides how we visualize the things in front of us. In coastal New England, the atmosphere is always changing, therefore I am very fortunate to live and paint in such a visually engaging area.” — Jonathan McPhillips

Paul Schulenburg

Paul Schulenburg, plein air painter