The California Plein Air Movement

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.


The Great Bohemian Migration
Jean Stern discusses how the richness and diversity of the environment promotes the migration of landscape artists to the Arroyo Seco.


A Difference of Styles
Jean Stern discusses how young artists influenced by European Impressionism found a home in Los Angeles and built a thriving artistic community.


Appreciating Plein Air
The Plein Air artist highlights and exalts the beauty of the everyday.


Capturing Desires
Nicole Possert discusses how the Plein Air artist captures and celebrates the natural beauty of the Arroyo Seco.


The Missions
Jean Stern explains how artists were not interested in restoring the Missions, but rather in preserving them as "ruins" or "relics" as part of the mythos of California.


Lessons of Franz Bischoff
Jean Stern on how Franz Bischoff settled along the Arroyo Seco where he exemplified and furthered the Plein Air style of painting.


Environmentalism Through Painting
Jean Stern describes the work of William Wendt, who infused his spirituality into his work, celebrating the glory of the land and predating the environmental movement.


The Beautiful Mist of Hanson Puthuff
Jean Stern explores Hanson Puthuff and his arrival in Southern California in the early 1900s, quickly becaming a celebrated member of the artistic community.

Frank Bischoff, Arroyo Landscape | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Frank Bischoff, Arroyo Seco Bridge | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Frank Bischoff, Picnic in the Arroyo | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Frank Bischoff, Summer Afternoon | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Frank Bischoff, Untitled (York Boulevard Bridge) | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Alson Skinner Clark, La Jolla Seascape, Oil on board | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
John Frost, The Pool at Sundown | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
William Lees Judson, Early Spring | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Jean Mannheim, Arch Beach, Laguna Beach | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Hanson Puthoff, Mystical Hills | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Edwin Roscoe Schrader, Geese | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Elmer Wachtel, Golden Autumn, Cajon Pass | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum
Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, Sunset | Image courtesy of the Irvine Museum

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