At the turn of the century, most "serious" artists in America were trained in Europe. French Impressionist painters at the time preferred to work en plein air, meaning "in open air," which took the practice of painting outdoors, using natural light. When artists returned home to America the artistic styles and techniques they brought back with them often took on novel forms. This was certainly the case when European-schooled artists migrated to Los Angeles and found a city in close proximity to deserts, beaches, chaparral and snow capped mountains—ideal settings for development of the California Plein Air movement.
For many artists, the already plentiful and distinct Southern California sunlight was especially attractive in the Arroyo. The area attracted some of the masters of the Plein Air style, including Marion Wachtel, Hanson Puthoff, and Franz Bischoff, "the King of Roses."
Plein Air artists such as William Wendt are often hailed as early environmentalists because of their passion for the natural landscape and the documentary value of paintings of a Los Angeles before cars, buildings, and sprawl. A plein air-style painting of today's Arroyo Seco would offer a stark contrast to one from the last century, making plain the physical and environmental transformation that time and progress have produced.
Above, Executive Director of the Irvine Museum, Jean Stern alongside Highland Park Heritage Trust preservationist, Nicole Possert, talk about the migration of plein-air artists to the Arroyo Seco area and their contributions in documenting the land on the brink of transition. Below, see a slideshow of paintings from the movement's most prominent artists.