Landscape oil sketches
In 18th-century Europe, making small sketches outdoors became a common practice for painters. Capturing fleeting natural effects was an artistic challenge that honed the skill of hand and eye. It soon became an essential part of a painter’s education. Artists sketched on home soil as well as on their travels to windswept coasts and across icy mountains. Many travelled south to the countryside around Rome (the campagna) which had attracted painters for centuries. Ancient ruins and aqueducts punctuate Italian landscape sketches. Elsewhere artists focus on scudding clouds, cragged rocks, and gnarled trees – both living and dead.
Back in the studio, details captured in sketches were incorporated into larger paintings. The small-scale works made quickly outdoors (en plein air) were rarely meant for public display, and are sometimes unfinished. In the last decades of the 19th century, the sketches’ loose style and freshness proved influential for the Impressionists in France and the Macchiaioli in Italy.