Plein Air Contest

En plein air is a French expression that means “in the open air.” It is used by artists to describe the art of outdoor painting, capturing landscapes and views in natural light. This kind of art has been a popular practice for centuries and requires specific skills and techniques.

Watercolor painting of the Red Mill in Belvidere, NJ In The Open Air

Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century, working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school, Hudson River School, and Impressionists.

In 1830, the Barbizon School in France, inspired by John Constable, enabled artists like Charles-François Daubigny and Théodore Rousseau to more accurately depict the appearance of outdoor settings in various light and weather conditions. In the late 1800s, the en plein air approach was incorporated with the impressionists’ style, and artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, and Edgar Degas began creating their work outdoors. From France, the movement expanded to America, starting in California then moving to other American locales notable for their natural light qualities, including the Hudson River Valley in New York.

The Macchiaioli were a group of Italian painters active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century, who, breaking with the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian academies of art, did much of their painting outdoors in order to capture natural light, shade, and color. This practice relates the Macchiaioli to the French Impressionists who came to prominence a few years later, although the Macchiaioli pursued somewhat different purposes. Their movement began in Florence in the late 1850s.

The Newlyn School in England is considered another major proponent of the technique in the latter 19th century. The popularity of painting en plein air increased in the 1840s with the introduction of paints in tubes (like those for toothpaste). Previously, painters made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil.

The act of outdoor painting from observation has been continually popular well into the 21st century.

Both seasoned and newly established artists are welcome to join the Plein Air Art Contest & Sale at this year’s Victorian Days. Artists may register early by filling out the form below and mailing or emailing it to Belvidere Heritage, P.O. Box 134, Belvidere, NJ 07823 or Registering in advance will help us to prepare for the display of your art. Victorian Days takes place rain or shine. In keeping with the tradition of Victorian Days, 19th century attire is highly recommended.

2019 Plein Air Art Contest & Sale

Come to our TICKET TENT in Garret D. Wall Park on Saturday, September 7 at 9:00am or later to have your canvas/paper stamped. Then find the scene or subject in Belvidere that calls to your soul. Create your masterpiece on-site (no studio work please) and return your artwork to the TICKET TENT on Sunday, September 8, no later than 1:00pm for judging. All work will be judged by local accomplished artists. Cash prizes will be awarded to the first, second and third place winners in all three categories, with the first professional prize being $750 PLUS a certificate worth $650 to have your artwork featured in Plein Air eMagazine!

Wet Paint Sale begins at 2:00pm.

Click the button below to download the 2019 Plein Air registration form.




Seeking artists, of all ages, who will embrace the 1890-1895 French Victorian style of painting plein air. Belvidere, NJ, is the perfect place to execute your art outdoors. Here you will easily find luminous plein air effects of natural light and atmosphere. Artists may register and get their canvases or papers stamped up until 12:00pm Sunday, September 8, 2018.


Click the button below to download the 2019 Plein Air registration form.