PleinAir Richmond – Painting Outdoors at VMFA

En plein air, translating to “in the open air,” is often used to describe painting outdoors. With natural light and the plethora of subjects readily available to them, artists—particularly the impressionists—have favored this style of painting for hundreds of years. This week, 33 nationally acclaimed artists have set up their easels (and their umbrellas) in multiple locations around Richmond for the 3rd annual PleinAir Richmond event. Paintings will be sold to benefit the Richmond Symphony.


PleinAir Richmond at VMFA

Of course, when selecting the locations to capture on canvas, VMFA was a natural choice. Two of the painters who came to the museum on Tuesday, June 24, chose the reflecting pool as their subject, but each chose a different perspective and focus. One artist from St. Augustine, FL, positioned himself in the bright sunshine (under just the shade of an umbrella) to paint the water lilies, a la Claude Monet. The other, an artist originally from Holland and currently living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, shaded herself beneath the canopy of trees to capture Chihuly’s Red Reeds on canvas.

Our day had just begun when we stopped by to chat with the painters. At 8:45 a.m., both artists already had their works underway. Painting in the morning hours “creates longer shadows and softer light,” said the painter from Florida, whose paint bag was stocked with sunscreen. He said the sound of rushing water also put him in a good space for painting.

While the Virginia painter also appreciated the morning light, she felt that painting in direct sunlight distorted her colors. In fact, the effect of changing light on colors was what first intrigued the impressionists so much about painting in the open air. “Colors look very bright, but when you bring (the painting) inside, the colors are way too dark,” she told us.

Some painters also chose to paint in the galleries. (Painting in the galleries is only allowed by special permission.)

On Friday, June 27, Brazier Gallery in Carytown will host a ticketed gala event to preview paintings from around the city for sale to benefit the Richmond Symphony and award cash prizes to the winning artists.