Painter follows Corot into open air of Rome

Feb 18, 2016

In the early nineteenth century, artists spent almost all their time inside studios. Instead of going outside, artists would usually sketch and paint from existing sketchings and paintings. 

The goal wasn’t to paint as realistically as possible, but as beautifully as possible. 

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was different. He started taking his paint outside.

Traverse City-based artist Joan Richmond says Corot was an important link in leaving behind the idealized world in painting.   

'Even though (Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot) is not really painting in a realistic photographic way, he’s looking at the real world,' says Joan Richmond.
Credit Dan Wanschura

"Even though he’s not really painting in a realistic photographic way, he’s looking at the real world," Richmond says.

Corot wasn’t the only painter to start working outdoors— there were a few others. But in the 1800’s, it wasn’t very practical to take oil paint outside. Back then, the development of metal tubes had not been invented yet, so painters would have transport their oils in things like pig bladders. 

Today the impressionist painters like Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt might be typically thought of as pioneers of the outdoor artistic movement. 

But Richmond says it was painters like Corot who led the way. That’s why she likes to champion him.

“Hey everybody, look at what he was doing way before this other group of people started,” she says.

Last year, Richmond was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome. She traveled around the city, painting in the exact locations Corot painted nearly 200 years ago. This year, she’ll return and visit a few sites just outside Rome. 

Joan Richmond traveled to Rome last year and painted 'Corot's Fountain.' Nearly 200 years earlier, Corot painted in the same location.
Credit Joan Richmond

Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief for PleinAir Magazine. He agrees that Corot is partly responsible for the plein air movement today.

He says it’s never been more popular.

Doherty says people want to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Plus, they can finish a plein air painting relatively quickly. A survey of painters done by the festival Plein Air Easton found many of them were baby boomers. 

“What Easton found was their biggest supporters were people who saw art as an appropriate kind of activity of them to get involved in their retirement years,” Doherty explains. “And since that’s … the fastest growing segment of the population, it makes sense that plein air painting would grow accordingly.”

In the winter months, Joan Richmond doesn’t do much Plein Air painting. She says her watercolor based paints don’t mix well with northern Michigan temperatures hovering around freezing. 

But in early March, she’ll be painting in the footsteps of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, in Rome, where high temps are usually in the 60s.

Joan Richmond will be the featured artist at the Glen Arbor Art Association's Talk About Art event on April 24th.