Painting outdoors could be a solitary activity, communing directly with the natural world. But it could also be a sociable one, with groups of artists painting together on the same site.
Civita Castellana, a medieval town north of Rome, was a popular destination for painters from the late eighteenth century onwards, including several of Giroux’s contemporaries, such as Camille Corot.
Here, apparently alone in nature but for his dog, the artist has set up an easel in front of his chosen motif. Dappled sunlight picks out the contours of his shoulder and illuminates the rock beyond. But there is an unseen presence: the artist (Giroux) who painted the painter painting.
Not everyone welcomed the growing trend to paint outdoors. Edgar Degas, for one, thought that plein-air painters were misled in their attempts to depict the impossible: ‘the air one sees in paintings… is not the air we can breathe’, he insisted.