Between Reality and Appearances
Why did it take so much time before artists hit on the idea of painting outdoors?
Although for a long time they had done sketches in the open, the actual painting of the landscape was done later in the studio. The artist's achievement was seen in bringing together and idealising the individual components of a landscape, and not in capturing an immediate impression of nature. Art had always to be better than visible reality. That only changed as the academic rules for painting came increasingly to be felt as a hindrance. By the beginning of the igth century, landscapes weighed down with symbolism failed to square any more with the realities of life at the dawn of industrialisation. Instead, the sight of pristine nature was held in esteem. Realism was in demand, even in the depiction of nature.
Artists no longer drew their inspiration from Italy, but from France. Already in 1830 a group of artists had discovered the delightful surroundings in the forest of Fontainebleau, south of Paris. Working under the open sky, they painted the landscape in all of its facets by taking random sections, and using natural lighting conditions and fresh colours. An artists colony was founded close to the village of Barbizon, which not only attracted German artists, but also convinced people about the possibilities of plein air painting. Likewise Germany saw new directions emerging in landscape painting. A landscape class was introduced at the Academy in Düsseldorf, in which studies were increasingly done in the open. The development of plein air painting in France and Germany contained the seed of Impressionism.