En Plein Aire: Definition & History

Simply stated, it is the art of painting directly from nature. The artist responds with quick and spontaneous brush strokes to capture the true effects of color and light

Painting outdoors started in the late 1700’s. Landscape painters in France began taking their oil paints to the field in pig bladders. And by the 1840s, collapsible tin tubes were being introduced by Winsor and Newton. It was about this time that Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) started the Impressionists group.

By 1869 Monet and Renoir were using portable easels and traveling paintboxes. They painted rapid studies in free sketchy brushwork, attempting to capture fleeting moments. Although methods and palettes were to change considerably in the following decades, the basis for outdoor painting techniques were firmly established.

Today, many think of Impressionism as a single style. A closer look reveals that each artist develops his own unique way of seeing. This creates a rich diversity of styles with one common theme: truth to nature.

I often do a small study first to get the general concept, composition and color masses before beginning the larger painting. That is why I have both a plein air panel holder and stretched canvas before me in some photos.

Ron Donoughe is a painter whose work deserves careful viewing. Many of the paintings are small, intimate, and particular, but in aggregate, they speak to a larger vision, one that transcends the specific, the local, even the regional. I think they demonstrate what plein air painting ought to be. Ron captures moments in time and space and emotion that connect us not only to those times, spaces and places, but to each other as observers and as feeling human beings.

This body of work gives me a feeling of comfort as I recognize the familiar sights we associate with Indiana, Pennsylvania, Indiana County, and IUP. I believe they can bring the same sense of belonging and of home to viewers far removed from here. This work also serves as a fine example to those who practice the craft of plein air painting: No matter the subject of the depicted scene, or the technical gifts of the painter, the person and the soul of the artist must be present if the painting is to achieve its full potential. These paintings speak to a technically talented craftsman whose choices and insights go beyond technique. They speak to art and to a personal truth that is as warm and inviting and generous as Ron Donoughe is as a person. I am proud to claim Ron as a graduate of IUP’s fine program in Art and pleased to introduce this new collection to all of you.

Michael Hood, Dean IUP College of Fine Arts: Foreword to the book, Paintings of Indiana County, Pennsylvania April, 2010
Painting in an Alley Way

Donoughe has a gift of turning the mundane into something spectacular, whether that is an overcast spring morning with deep dramatic grays or a vibrant multicolored alleyway. His work emits a tranquil beauty that only a keen eye and exceptional talent can create. His application of lighting and color appears effortless in his compositions and his use of color theory is brilliant as he blurs the line between impressionism and realism. The dedication to his craft of plein air painting is inspirational.

Sommer Toffle, Curator’s Statement: A Changing Landscape from the City to the Countryside Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, May, 2009