Did You Know (En Plein Air)

photo of painter Chris Coyne painting Annisquam Village En Plein air on a very cold January day
Photo by E.J. Lefavour
Painter Caleb Stone capturing Annisquam Village En Plein Air on a cold January afternoon
Photo by E.J. Lefavour

That en plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air”, and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors?
Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school and Impressionism. The popularity of painting en plein air increased in the 1870s with the introduction of paints in tubes.  Previously, each painter made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil.  It was during this period that the “Box Easel”, typically known as the French Easel, was invented. It is uncertain who developed it first, but these highly portable easels, with telescopic legs and built-in paint box and palette, made treks into the forest and up the hillsides less onerous. Still made today, they remain a popular choice even for home use since they fold up to the size of a brief case and thus are easy to store. One popular version is named the Jullian easel, designed by Roger Jullian, a French prisoner of war during World War II, who devoted himself to designing and later manufacturing the perfect sketch box easel.
While walking around Annisquam the day after the storm, I encountered these two artists painting en plein air, and it was a very chilly plein air at that. Each was painting their view of the Village from opposite sides of the end of Leonard Street. Chris Coyne (first picture), really impressed me by having included me in his painting by the time I reached the top of the rise where they were set up. Chris has a gallery at 37 Bearskin Neck, called Chris Coyne Fine Art www.coynefineart.com. The second artist is Caleb Stone of Ipswich. Caleb’s website is http://calebstoneart.com. Both are very accomplished artists, and it was nice to meet them and impressive to watch them work in the bitter cold with no gloves on.  Personally, I’m a wimpy studio painter and you’d never catch me outside painting in the cold like that.  These guys are hardcore.

From Wikipedia and The Fox Chase

E.J. Lefavour


12 thoughts on “Did You Know (En Plein Air)

  1. Caleb and his father Don Stone were two of the artists I wrote about in my book, “Legacy: The Artist Families of the North Shore” for the NS Arts Association. He was a lovely guy to interview and a fine artist.


  2. I’m loving your Did You Know posts, EJ!
    Your new found love of all things Gloucester is encouraging even more love for Gloucester- which we love 🙂
    Keep ’em coming!


  3. Hi Paul – thanks. I learned something new today. I’d never heard of the Gloucester easel, but looked into it and found the that the Andersen easel, introduced from Northern Europe in the early 1900s was renamed the Gloucester Easel and made popular by Emile Gruppé and the Gloucester School of Painting. It was the answer to their need for a stable easel for painting in windy conditions along the uneven rocky New England coast.


  4. Thanks Linn. I think love, fascination, curiosity and excitement about a person, place or thing can be contagious, so I’m glad you think my posts are encouraging even more love for Gloucester, which is what I hope they do. There can never be too much love. I also believe Cape Ann is an incredible spiritual vortex, which we each have the ability to keep expanding and enlarging until it reaches a critical mass that will spill out over the world. I believe GMG, and the multitude of other Cape Ann expressions, has the potential to be globally significant in this ultimately most important way. I think big, and believe that nothing is impossible.


  5. I learned something else new today, thanks to Melissa Kreiger of Annisquam. Chris and Caleb are sporting Carhartts – which I never heard of, but now I know what they are. Thanks Melissa!


  6. Hi Frank – very cool site. I hope your English is better than my German. En plein air can be a very healthy and enjoyable way of painting, unless you are doing it in the bitter cold of winter as these artists were – then I think staying in the studio where it is warm is better.


  7. Thanks for the press EJ!
    Caleb and I are both so toasty in our faux-carharrts that we don’t really need gloves.
    I still need one more sitting on the painting.
    Regarding the Anderson easel….
    I am often teased by a very famous and accomplished painter for using a “girl-easel”.
    Well, my girl-easel has been to hell and back and working great but Paul, if you want to make a trade for your unused Anderson Easel stop by the gallery.


    1. Girl Easel Chris?! Has your friend painted at Bass Rocks on big slippery rocks during a Gale? Lets see a French easel Stand up to that. I still use my Dad’s “Gloucester Easel”. It also means to much to me to trade it for anything.
      Thanks for the offer anyways.
      They now make them under the name “Beauport” here’s the link:


  8. Not surprised to see Caleb gloveless and painting out in the snow. Caleb was my mentor for several years and was always very enthusiastic about painting snow scenes. He would describe his winter trips to Monhegan Island where he would use a toboggan to haul his gear . We have a painting that he did while he was there in the snow and it’s amazing the way he captured the feeling of the season!


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