Thursday, October 25, 2012

Those Crazy Bohemains! (At last, painting en plein aire)

As both an indie author and a painter, I completely relate to the excitement and fear the nineteenth and twentieth century bohemian artists of Paris felt in regard to their new found freedom.  Now they could paint what they wanted, yet they were not guaranteed any income! The same is true for indie authoring/self publishing. It is a roll of the dice. But, oh, what freedom!

This freedom to paint whatever they wanted was joined with the need to paint in new ways. This was not the only freedom that these artists had for the first time, however. Something very simple and basic to us had just started to exist for these artists.  Paint in tubes.

For the first time, artists did not have to spend hours painstakingly mixing their colors from raw pigments mixed with medium of their choice. This took hours and confined them to studio painting. It was simply too difficult to be portable. When painting in tubes became widely available the game changed. Now artists could pack up and paint wherever their hearts desired! Imagine the excitement of painting for the first time en plein aire (outside)!

Now artists could paint landscapes and street scenes in new ways, capturing the glow of sunrise or sunset, the glare of full sun, the shadows as they moved across the buildings during different parts of the day. The colors of things changed depending on the weather and time of day. Artists had always known that, but now it was even easier to capture on canvas. Gone was the desire to paint picture perfect. Instead of worrying about making a two dimensional canvas appear three dimensional, many Impressionists allowed their painting to look flat. They concentrated on showing us something different: The brightness, the glow, the shadows, the color. Show me something different indeed!

These Impressionists found they had a new problem when painting outside. Now they needed to work quickly, and oils take time to dry between layers. They began to work alla prima, or wet-on-wet. This technique not only allowed them to work faster, it demanded they do so. It was imperative to get the layers on before the first layer dried.

These artists shared techniques and ideas constantly, both at popular painting sites and at cabarets, such as Au Lapin Agile and Chat Noir. One of the most popular places to paint en plein aire became Place du Tertre in Montmartre. Although technically part of Paris, the village maintained that it was independent of the city, and it was the place where Impressionism truly began. We will talk more about these famous places, and about the bohemian artists and their lifestyle in later posts.

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