Telluride Plein Air: what’s all the fuss about

Telluride Plein Air: what’s all the fuss about

Plein Air artists in Telluride (see Slide show of their work below)

This week, 30 nationally recognized artists have been painting in and around Telluride for the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s 6th annual Telluride Plein Air event.

Bottom line: Impressionist style plein air painting is an old idea updated by new blood.

Eugene Boudin was one of the more adventurous 19th-century painters, known primary for his beach scenes and seascapes of northern France, and luminous skies. When Boudin taught his young student, Claude Monet, the importance of painting a scene directly from nature in the light, in the air, just as it was, painting en plein air was born. In the stroke of Monet’s agitated brush, the dark palette of Realism (and the Barbizon School) gave way to the brighter highlights of painting directly from nature.

Monet quickly introduced friends such as Renoir, Sisley and Bazille to the core idea of the discipline: record only what is visible at given distances under specific lighting conditions.

In December 1873, outdoor painting sessions and heated café discussions among young artists of the day culminated in the Societe Anonyme des Artists. The group’s first show, April 15, 1874, included an image by Monet of dawn over a foggy harbor entitled “Impression: Sunrise.” A critic wrote a satirical review, sniffing at the Monet,  and in one stroke of a venomous pen, he popularized the term “Impressionism,”  now synonymous with plein air painting.

The first important Impressionist work to be shown in America was Manet’s “Execution of the Emperor Maximilian,” banned by Paris censors as politically inflammatory. According to art critic Robert Hughes, in 1879 the image was brought to New York and Boston by an opportunistic singer named Madame Ambre who put on a show to generate publicity for her recitals.

In 1886, a popular French art dealer mounted the first professional show of Impressionist images at the American Art Association’s galleries. Thus began America’s love affair with fine European works of art. In a heartbeat, American artists began to adopt plein air techniques. and much late 19th and early 20th-century paintings stems from reactions to Impressionism’s basic tenets. Today in the U.S. alone, there are more than 500 registered Plein Air painters.

“Telluride Inside… and Out” has included examples of the work of some of the 2009 plein air painters to illustrate the style.

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