Plein air. From Corot to Monet: Open-Air Sketching in Italy, from 1780

By Musée des impressionnismes Giverny

The practice of drawing directly from the nature was common in the seventeenth century, but the habit of painting outdoors only really developed in Rome in the 1780s. At the time, the Eternal City was a veritable crossroads where artists from all horizons came together. Determined to study Antiquity, they were also delighted by the modern city, its gardens and surrounding countryside. Painted on paper, their studies were usually kept in the studio, where they constituted a repertoire of motifs with which they could compose more ambitious works.

Thomas Jones, Houses in Naples, oil on paper (1782/1782)British Museum

From 1776 to 1783, the Englishman Thomas Jones lived between Rome and Naples. He produced some of his most remarkable sketches between 1781 and 1782. From his temporary studio at the convent of Santa Maria or the roof terrace of his lodgings, he produced a series of views of Naples with head-on, close-up framing. The artist recalled: "I spent many a happy hour in painting from Nature."

As a chronicler of the urban landscape, he realistically depicted the patina of dilapidated walls dotted with holes caused by scaffolding, or the radiance of linen drying in the sun.

These oil studies on paper were never exhibited in his lifetime, but today they are considered the painter's masterpieces.

Study of Clouds over the Roman Campagna (c. 1782/1785) by Pierre-Henri de ValenciennesNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, one of the key theorists of landscape painting, spent time in Rome from 1777 to 1785. He paid particular attention to the effects of light and weather conditions on forms, as evidenced by this oil study captured on the spot. In 1799, the artist published a seminal treatise, "Élémens de perspective pratique à l’usage des artistes, suivis de Réflexions et conseils à un élève sur la peinture, et particulièrement sur le genre du paysage" (Elements of practical perspective for the use of artists, followed by reflections and advice to a pupil concerning painting and particularly the genre of landscape painting), and recommended working "in an interval of two hours at most: and if it is an effect of the rising or setting sun, it should not take more than half an hour."

View of Rome from the Malta Villa by François Marius GranetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

From 1802 to 1824, François Marius Granet painted the Eternal City and its surroundings tirelessly, to the extent that his friends claimed he had "all of Rome in his wallet". He mindfully evoked the city's monuments without overlooking the numerous gardens that contributed to its beauty.

The famous Quirinal Palace dominates the composition here…

...but it is the evocation of Rome’s light that adds all the interest to the landscape.

The areas of shadow and brightness subtly contrast with it, thus conveying the city's very particular atmosphere.

Colosseum Pillar (first half of the 19th century) by François Marius GranetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Like most artists residing in Rome, Granet painted the emblematic ruins of the city. But it was not the glorious silhouette of the Colosseum, which is barely identifiable in this study from the collection of the musée Granet (Aix-en-Provence), that he chose to evoke here.

Sumptuously lit by the sun, the stones are assailed by nature, which has reclaimed them.

Moreover, the landscape is not enlivened by an ancient figure, but rather by an artist who, portfolio clasped under his arm, contemplates the site while facing the sun.

When he died in 1849, Granet bequeathed the contents of his studio to the museum in Aix-en-Provence, his hometown. This collection includes a hundred studies painted with freedom and frankness, which now constitute one of the jewels of the Granet Museum collection.

Study of Clouds with a Sunset near Rome (1786–1801) by Simon Alexandre Clément DenisThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Simon Denis, a Flemish landscape painter, left for Rome in 1786. He probably stayed there until 1801, when he moved to Naples, where he spent the rest of his life. He produced a series of studies of the sky and clouds.

Here, the foreground is occupied by a narrow strip of land and the green treetops.

This tumultuous sky is a tremendous representation of Valenciennes' advice: "The colour of the Clouds always holds the light which illuminates them; but as this light can strike them in several ways, it is not astonishing that they are so varied in colours and tones, even when we observe them at the same hour and at the same instant of day or night."

Rome, a view from Corot’s Window (1825-12) by Camille CorotMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

The young Camille Corot arrived in Rome in December 1825. From the outset, he painted the roofs of the Eternal City that he could see from his window and carefully evoked the winter light. He would go on to produce nearly 150 studies in Italy, all of which were held in high esteem by his colleagues and his early critics. In 1853, Théophile Silvestre wrote the following about them: "His long observation of such a clearly illuminated country must have made his future work easy, even in regions less distinct in appearance."

View through One of the Arches in the Second Story of the Colosseum in Rome (1825-12) by Camille CorotMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Corot's works essentially aimed to convey a visual sensation. Built on the clear contrast between areas of light and shade, the studies he painted from nature in Italy marked the origins of modern landscape painting. When the artist died in 1875, the critic Philippe Burty underlined their importance: "Some of these studies, which are very personal, and very accentuated in terms of the delicacy of the drawing and the finesse of the outlines, are renowned in the studios. Corot lent them willingly, and they have had a beneficial influence on the contemporary school."

"Fifteen times in a row, he returns to sit in the same place at the same time. On a small square of canvas three times the size of his hand, he patiently details the magnificence of the place that he has chosen as his model. Opposite him, the Colosseum, emerging from the bosom of the ancient city, dominates the blue horizon of the mountains with its warm, red mass." (Étienne Moreau-Nélaton, "Corot raconté par lui-même", Paris, H. Laurens, 1924)

Pompeii by Achille Etna MichallonMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Achille Etna Michallon was influenced by Pierre Henri de Valenciennes, who taught him at the School of Fine Arts. In 1817, he was the first winner of the Grand Prix de Rome for historic landscapes. From 1818 to 1821, he was a boarder at the Académie de France in Rome, where he rubbed shoulders with Léon Cogniet, François Marius Granet and Pierre-Athanase Chauvin. With a keen sense of observation, the artist painted urban views of Rome and Naples from life, as well as famous Italian sites, such as Pompeii here. At his funeral oration in 1822, Victor-Augustin Vanier described him as follows: "See him [...], cross mountains, climb steep rocks, sink into woods, descend into ravines, rub shoulders with torrents. The sky, the sea, volcanoes: it all electrifies him and transports him. He observes nature everywhere, and captures it in the act. In his numerous forays, like a bee gathering pollen, he forms a heap, a treasure trove of admirable studies."

The Roman Forum seen from the Colosseum (between 1814 and 1816) by Christoffer Wilhelm EckersbergMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

In 1810, the Danish painter Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg left for the Grand Tour, which took him to Paris, where he joined the studio of the neo-classical painter Jacques-Louis David. He then moved on to Rome in 1813, where he stayed for three years. In Italy, he worked tirelessly "sur le motif" (directly from the motif). In a letter dated 11 February 1815, the artist specified: "My happiest hours are when, with my paint box and stool under my arm, I go walking into the free outdoors to paint – to paint from nature."

Eckersberg was particularly interested in the effects of light and shade, which he portrayed with a sober palette.

In a series of studies, he amused himself by depicting the monuments of ancient Rome, finding unexpected framing for them: the Roman Forum is seen here through two arches of the Colosseum.

The artist demonstrated a sense of detail with the little figures in the background…

...and the weeds invading the foreground.

Aurora Borealis effects (1848-10-17) by Salvatore FergolaMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

On 17 October 1848, from the royal observatory of Capodimonte, the Neapolitan painter Salvatore Fergola contemplated an aurora borealis, a rare light phenomenon in Italy. A painter of vedute before he produced a number of romantic seascapes inspired by storms or the effects of twilight in the Bay of Naples, Fergola was always sensitive to the effects of light.

The contrast created by the pink veils overhanging the shadowy landscape fascinated him.

Credits: Story

The exhibition "Plein air. From Corot to Monet", curated by Marina Ferretti, Specialist in the Impressionist and post-Impressionist period, assisted by Vanessa Lecomte, Associate Curator at the musée des impressionnismes Giverny, was originally scheduled for 27 March to 28 June 2020 at the museum, but had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Acknowledgements:
Mélanie Bernuz, Mariska de Jonge, Marie-Élise Dupuis, Bruno Ely, Bertrand Gautier, Alice Goldet, Pamela Grimaud, Stéphanie Lardez, Ger Luijten, Bertrand Talabardon, Alice-Anne Tod.

www.britishmuseum.org
www.nga.gov
www.museegranet-aixenprovence.fr
www.getty.edu
www.fondationcustodia.fr

We invite you to explore the work published for the event by the musée des impressionnismes Giverny in conjunction with Éditions Gallimard, Paris.
www.gallimard.fr/Catalogue/GALLIMARD/Livres-d-Art/Plein-air

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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