The Invincible Summer Within
Emily Buchanan’s En Plein Air Studios
Artist Emily Buchanan paints a local landmark, Cornwall Bridge.
photo // John Gruen
When I met with painter Emily Buchanan in her home and studio in Cornwall she was getting ready to travel, which almost always means she’s preparing to paint. She took me through the understated, elegantly furnished old farmhouse where she and her husband, painter Brendan O’Connell, have made a home raising their family for the past 19 years, to a room filled with paintings stacked against the walls. There was much to admire—green and breathtaking views of mountains and lakes, yellow and blue seasides—edenic places. But these four walls cannot contain Emily Buchanan, she prefers to paint outside.
Engaging in a painting practice dating to the turn of the 19th century, Buchanan works en plein air—a term derived from French, meaning, simply “outdoors.” Equipped with a portable French box easel, she renders breathtaking natural vistas in a realist style descended from the French Barbazon and American Hudson River Schools.
Her passion for her craft is founded in a combination of the academic aesthetics of early 20th-century Realism, and emotion-driven ethics inherited from 19th century Romantics. Building on formal training gained at Bard College and with Paul Ingbretson at The Boston School she was “taught to see” with a vision that looks both forward and backwards at once: gazing across expansive natural spaces, vistas including mountains and lakes, and excluding telephone poles and roads, satisfying a longing for an untouched past.
“I was not the best art student in school. I didn’t know I’d get so good at this! I was just doing what I love.” She insists that her extraordinary ability is simply the result of dedication, and repetition, and time—a concept that’s especially hard to explain to her two post-millennial teenagers. Emily Buchanan puts in long hours, and is constantly on the move.
She spends summers in the Northeast doing short tours of favorite sites in and around New England, from Lake George in the Adirondacks to coastal Maine. During the winter she seeks warmer climates such as Harbor Island in the Bahamas, Capri, and Greece. She rises with the sun, and is painting by 5:30 am: “I love the light on a lake at sunrise; you just can’t get the same reflections on the water at any other time of day.”
She keeps her trips short so that she can return to Cornwall to be with her family and work locally. “It’s always so nice to return to Litchfield County.” With roots in Boston, and an early adulthood spent working in advertising in Manhattan, she says she loves city life, but finds that here she has “more energy and focus for my work. There’s a serenity here.”
Perhaps this serenity contained on canvas was what attracted the Obamas in 2014, when she received a call from the White House out of the blue. “I was in New York city for the day, and saw that I had a voicemail from a blocked number. There was a message for me from the White House. It was quite a surprise!” Commissioned to create a painting for the annual White House holiday card, Emily was not asked to paint a landscape. Instead, she was invited to come render an interior, in the White House foyer, including the Obama’s two Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Bo. Emily says painting inside was entirely “out of my comfort zone.” Creating this work was, as a result a high point in a career she regards as a constant a learning process.
The constant quest for betterment and new experiences is the hallmark of a truly creative life, and is clearly a driver for Emily Buchanan’s career. Recent work includes a long roster of distinguished commissions, including historic hotels such as Winvian, the Sagamore, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Emily says that working
outside is healing, and if she can share that healing, immersive environment through the visual space of her canvases, she has succeeded.
The Litchfield County
Auction House is presenting The International Fine Art Auction on Sep 13 to15 in LItchfield. litchfieldcountyauctions.com