Painting on the Hill: Drawing Inspiration from the French Impressionists

by Rachel Cutler, educator and resident artist

On Sunday, September 20, the trees around Hill-Stead were tinged with orange and red. With a slight chill in the air, it was a perfect day for painting. En Plein Air is the French term for creating art “outdoors,” and was popularized by the Impressionists.

Historically, the studio was the setting for most painting endeavors. Materials were not suitable for long hikes along the countryside. The “box easel” came into being in the mid 19th century, and artists ventured outdoors more frequently to paint, especially the Impressionists. They wanted to create art at the very moment they were looking upon a scene. They were capturing the essence, the impression of that moment.

Looking out at the West Lawn at Hill-Stead, one can draw a parallel to the rolling fields around Monet’s home in Giverny. The hills behind the trees are soft blue; the lawn is crisp and boasts an assortment of yellows, golds, oranges, tans, and greens. The trees are ablaze with autumn colors, creating a fantastic place to paint En Plein Air.

Guests arrived and found their favorite vantage points. Tables spread across the lawn with materials provided: canvas, paintbrushes, water cups, painting boards, and paints. With the guidance of Hill-Stead’s Education Specialist and local artist Rachel Cutler, aspiring painters learned about the advantages of working out in nature. The wind could blow over paint cups, leaves could drop into the paint, but it was worth these struggles to sit outside with friends and family, inspired by the local landscape. 

The event lasted two hours, and it was broken into two parts, hashing out basic shapes and colors first, then adding details. This process builds confidence for new artists as they bring their paintings to life; guests were happy to add their personality to their work.

Painting on the Hill drew inspiration from the French Impressionists’ belief in staying in the moment of celebrating spontaneity. In today’s times of turmoil and change, it is essential to appreciate the moment. Reflecting on the Impressionists, we can learn a lot about their determination to capture their local environment’s beauty and stay present during their work.

As we move into fall, we celebrate with more fun and inspiring events with our From the Porch Series. Don’t miss the many incredible performances and events we have lined up in the coming weeks!


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