Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review - Inaugural exhibition of British Plein Air Painters

This is a review of the inaugural exhibition by British Plein Air Painters at the Menier Gallery, 51 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1RU. 
It is the first exhibition by the newly formed collective British Plein Air and promises to be one the most exciting exhibitions to be held in 2018.
The exhibition comprises over 200 paintings for sale by 27 leading plein air artists in the UK - including David Curtis and Trevor Chamberlain, Pete Brown, Adebanji Alade and Haidee-jo Summers.  All work is for sale during the show and can be viewed on their artists page.

Most of the British Plein Air Painters participating in their exhibition
Last night I went to the Private View and this post is about what I thought about the exhibition and the exhibiting artists

The exhibition continues until 4pm on Saturday 20th October.


Back in 2006, one of the very first blog posts on this blog (age 4 months) was about a listing of Plein Air Painting Organisations. It contained the following
Why is it that so many art societies in the UK seem to be so dedicated to limiting their activities to having demonstrations or talks with slides or painting a still life indoors or social get togethers rather than arranging plein air events/expeditions? It can't be the weather - as we only need to go and look at some of the photos of the weather some of our north american artist friends paint in! Maybe we need a focus or a network for plein air activity in the UK? It's not as if it isn't happening - it's just not happening on a website near me - whinge now officially over!!! Maybe somebody will prove me wrong...........please?
We now have the answer! See the end for more information.

What I liked about the British Plein Air Painters Exhibition

The best things about the exhibition were that....
  • it was an exhibition about British plein air painting, 
  • all the paintings were done from observation and 
  • there were absolutely no paintings which were copying photographs!
Each painting featured will have its origins based outside; some will have been finished on site and some finished in the studio. Every painting strives to capture the essence of the landscape in which it is based. 
As such it demonstrated the very wide variety of styles and approaches to painting landscapes from observation - and it was a pleasure to look at much of the work on display.

It was also great to walk into an exhibition which was already sporting red dots on many paintings - and it was great to see people walking out the door with the paintings they bought.

Both the new group and this exhibition provide a platform for plein air painting which has been very much lacking in the UK in recent times. (see Foreword above)

To me, from what I've seen so far, in terms of the creation of this new group; their website and social media presence and having an exhibition to show what they can do - all serve to indicate great things to come.

Especially given their commitment to paint-outs and the fact they got very nearly 100 people coming to their paint out in St James Park last week! (See Capturing the Moment - plein air paint out in St James's Park)

Personally I think some of the other major/national art groups/societies ought to be more than a little bit concerned as this new group seems to be on on the "up and up". Buyers who like plein air paintings are bound to start visiting this exhibition. Bottom line it means competition re which exhibition generates the most sales of plein air work - and which exhibitions the collectors choose to go to in future. If it means the other societies "up their game" in terms of giving the plein air painting of their members more of a platform, it seems to me it can only be a "win win" for all concerned!

I was very impressed to see the exhibition included works by Fred Cuming RA

Artwork I liked

It goes without saying that paintings by David Curtis ROI RSMA and Trevor Chamberlain are perennially impressive and Pete Brown PROI is a street scene painter extraordinaire. I saw some really lovely examples of their work at this exhibition.

Marine and rural landscapes by  David Curtis

Adam Ralston, one of my favourite plein air painters who always includes figures in his work, also had a great wall of work

I particularly liked the vaporous atmosphere is Chris Robinson's watercolours

Four Watercolours by Chris Robinson (in white frames)

There were also lots of individual paintings I liked a lot by various artists participating in the exhibition.

Artwork by Felicity House, Haidee-Jo Summers and Adebanji Alade

Marketing online prior to opening the exhibition

I liked the group's very sensible approach to keeping on top of costs while maximising marketing for their paintings.

The exhibition had been online for some weeks prior to the exhibition and paintings had been selling well online prior to the exhibition being hung.

The catalogue - which was professional designed was excellent and also available online

Adebanji Alade VPROI (who is the Artist in Residence for the BBC1's The One Programme) also gave a couple of great SHORT speeches during the preview about what the group was about and the importance of making a decision to buy artwork that makes you feel good.

His description of how he learned to become an artist - after reading a book on how to paint by Trevor Chamberlain while a youth in a library in Nigeria - was especially moving!

Adebanji Alade speaking

Exhibition hire 

They had also decided to hire the Menier Gallery for just one week which meant that they were letting people walk out with paintings they had bought and had some in reserve to hang in the spots vacated as a result.

Two previews

Another thing that was great is that they decided to have the view for family and friends on the evening of the day they hung (Monday) - which meant that people who were not going to buy were not making the rooms crowded and hot - and getting in the way of collectors actually being able to see the paintings.

Last night was busy - but it was a comfortable atmosphere for viewing artwork.

The two previews were a very sensible idea which other art societies should copy!  It's nice for friends and families to see your work - but not if it means that you make the place crowded so nobody can see the artwork and thus inhibit sales!

Organisation and funding

My understanding is that the costs of the exhibition were paid for upfront by each artist and no commission is being charged on sales meaning:

  • potentially a very good return for some artists (i.e. as good as selling work online direct from their website)
  • a considerable incentive to contribute their best work to the exhibition.

One of my perennial complaints about the artwork in the exhibitions of national art societies is the impression that they give their best work to their galleries and the next best to the art society annual exhibition.  In my book that's not good enough.

A slightly different business model provides a major incentive to make sure an exhibition has very good work on display!  One to ponder on for all art groups organising exhibitions!

Things to work on for next time

It's inevitable with any new group and a new show that there are things that can be improved upon.  However I have to say this group has "got its act together" in pretty short order and are already doing better in a lot of ways than some art groups/societies who are many years/ decades their senior!

The Hang

I understand that the exhibition was hung the way it was to be "fair" to all participating artists. Hence if artists had submitted eight works, then four were on the ground level and four were on the lower floor.  Typically most of an artists's works were hung with their other works.

Personally I think this represented a missed opportunity.

I think the exhibition would have had an even greater impact - as a SHOP WINDOW for sales to those interested in buying plein air paintings - if there had been more emphasis on themes. This makes it so much easier for buyers to review the available paintings on different themes and similar places.

In particular, I'd strongly advocate for one which emphasised the number of paintings of London in the exhibition - and then marketing hard to all the nearby offices and places where people eat. 

The feature wall - which can be seen from the street - to mind offered an excellent opportunity to create a visual to draw people in off the street. However it lacked a "come hither" effect.

The works on display indicated that works could very easily be grouped into a number of themes
  • urban landscapes
    • London
    • Rest of the UK
    • International eg New York had a strong presence - but you missed it given the way the paintings were spread out.
  • rural landscapes
  • houses / gardens / parks
  • maritime / coasts / beach scenes
  • winter - there were a significant number of paintings with a winter theme. There could also be scope for other seasons too.


Putting labels under paintings means that the shadow cast by a frame with depth or a major overhang makes the content of the label unreadable. Particularly for those of us who have difficulty with bending!

No still life!

Still life might be painted from observation but, by definition, it is NOT plein air.

To my mind all still life paintings should have been banned from exhibition. (There were only a very small number - but to my mind they undermined the thing that made this exhibition different). So please - NO still life next time!

There are also enough good plein air painters in Britain to make it very easy next time to include more participating artists - all of whom paint plein and ONLY show plein air paintings in the exhibition.

More about the British Plein Air Painters

You can find out more about the British Plein Air Painters as follows:

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