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Dessiner en plein air. Variations du dessin sur nature dans la première moitié du 19e siècle

This exhibition showcases the heterogeneity of French “from the motif” or “from nature” drawing in the first half of the 19th century, with a particular focus on leading figures of French art (Delacroix, Corot, Chassériau, Valenciennes and Daubigny), as well as lesser-known individuals such as the engraver Bléry.

Organized with special support from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the cooperation of the Musée d’Orsay, the exhibition puts on display over 100 drawings and etchings, and some thirty sketchbooks—the “plein-air’ painter’s quintessential tool.

The practice of drawing “en plein air” or “in the open air”, “from the motif”, first recorded in 17th-century France (and Europe), became common in the 18th century, and was considered an integral part of every young artist’s training in the 19th. The constantly evolving art movement eventually came to be seen as exceptionally important in the history of drawing. The meaning of expressions such as “from nature”, “after nature” and “from the motif” was fluid, vague: just as easily referring to observational and scientific drawings, as to studies, students’ practice drawings, architectural surveys, military sketches, drawings from memory, travel notes or the faint outlines of a fleeting impression.

Drawings from nature gradually came to be viewed as artworks in their own right; finished pieces with their own justification and purpose. This change in perception led to the 1861 publication of Charles Daubigny’s Voyage en bateau, a collection of rapid sketches depicting his outings on the rivers Seine and Oise aboard his studio-boat the Botin, which provided an ideal setting for drawing from nature.

The line between the studio and the outdoors was not always clear, with artists often swinging back and forth between the two. A prime example of this vague state: the work of landscape painter Corot. While his subject matter was significantly different to that of “plein-air” artists, he shared their preoccupation with color, which could either be applied directly “from the motif”, or reworked at the studio with the help of notes taken on site.
Relevant research areas: Western Europe, 19th Century

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