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California Plein Air Painters Paint the Mission Tomorrow

Plein Air is a French term used to describe the practice, revolutionary in the late 19th Century, of artists leaving their studios to paint landscapes and scenes in nature.  Many of the early French Impressionists painted “en plein air,” including Monet, Renoir and even Van Gogh.  Around the same time (~1890-1930), California developed its own interpretation of Plein Air Impressionism, one that focuses on capturing the natural beauty of California’s open spaces, historic buildings and beaches.  Wikipedia has a good article on California Plein Air Impressionism here.  The Irvine Museum, founded by Joan Irvine Smith, contains one of the largest collections of California Impressionism in the world.  The Irvine Museum is located at 18881 Von Karman Avenue, Suite 100, in Irvine.  Popular locations for California Plein Air painters include Crystal Cove State Beach (and the cottages) in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach (and its iconic Main Beach life guard tower), San Clemente Pier and Newport and Dana Point Harbors.

In the following video, professional artist Jorn Fox demonstrates his California Impressionist style of plein air painting at Crystal Cove.

The most famous subject of Southern California plein air painting, however, is without a doubt Mission San Juan Capistrano.   According to an informational PDF about plein air painting at the Mission:

Jean Stern, Director of the Irvine Museum, comments:

“Among these artists was Elmer Wachtel, painter of the influential piece, Capistrano Mission painted in the mid-1890s before restoration of the roofs over the arcade. These artists were interested in preserving what had already been built in early California, instead of rebuilding. Though at the time, these structures were barely 100 or 150 years old, these artists still had romantic notions about them. The Missions represented personal histories, legends, stories, travel and a sense of place. The artists interpreted the California Missions not as archeological sites, but rather as places where people had lived. As subjects for paintings, these sites represented life, death, happiness, and sadness – all elements of a golden past. To them, Mission San Juan Capistrano was something much more than the stones and the flowers; it was the site of our heritage. It is believed that Mission San Juan Capistrano in particular was among the most popular locations for painting, outside of New York City. This Mission was chosen [as preferred subject matter] above all others, because of its unique beauty in terms of what had been.”

This special bond between the Mission and the California Impressionists continues today.  In fact, tomorrow, the Mission joins with the California Art Club to host a special plein air painting event (free, with admission) on the Mission grounds.  From the Mission’s events page:

Ten-Year Reunion of the California Art Club at Mission San Juan Capistrano

Saturday, July 27, 2013

9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Mission San Juan Capistrano and the California Art Club will host a special plein air painting event at the historic “Jewel of the Missions.” This is part of the California Art Club’s “Paint the Missions” painting event series in celebration of California heritage and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Father Serra, the founder of nine of the 21 California missions.  Nearly 75 of the organization’s premier contemporary-traditional fine artists are expected to participate in this special reunion event held for the first time since 2003. The event is open to the public and all are welcome to see the artists as they paint.

The Mission has long partnered with Joan Irvine Smith to display reproductions of historic plein air paintings from her private collection.  You can see them in the Soldiers’ Barracks Gallery at the Mission.

One of the largest organizations of Plein Air painters is the Southern California Plein air Painters Associations, or SOCALPAPA.  Their website is here, and they host plein air painting events around Orange County, including a recent one at Newport’s Back Bay.  In April of this year, Rancho Mission Viejo hosted nearly thirty prominent plein air painters from the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, who spent two days on the Ranch painting various landscapes and structures, including the famous Rancho Mission Viejo windmill.  Some photos from that event are here.  There are more good photos of that event on the RMV Facebook page, here.

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