The true test of a landscape painter is the challenge of painting "en plein air." And the true challenge of a plein air painter is if they can paint "effet de neige." Anyone care to go out and do a little effet de neige painting? Whoa, before everyone volunteers, maybe you better check your supplies. Okay, you got brushes, paints, medium, cleaner, canvas, easel, stool, paintbox, but don't forget wood for the fire, a heavy overcoat, long johns, gloves, (minus the fingertips of course), a woolen toboggan, heavy boots, a thermos of hot coffee, and, oh, yeah, a snow shovel might be handy. If you haven't guessed, "Effet de neige" means "snow effect" and if you don't have at least one such painting in your portfolio, then you're not a true, dyed-in-the-wool, plein air painter.
Except for some Dutch painters who dabbled a little with snow scenes during the seventeenth century, Claude Monet was probably the first plein air painter to rise to the challenge of painting outside in the middle of the winter, and in the middle of the snow no less. His first one is dated 1865. Although today Paris and its environs are not known for particularly harsh winters, the weather pattern seems to have been quite different back in the latter third of the nineteenth century. The term "Siberian winter" first came into use and became common place. Monet was the world champion snowscape painter. He painted 140 of them. He was joined from time to time by Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Gauguin, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who incidentally hated the experience. He produced a grand total of only three. He referred to snow as "...a blight on the face of Nature."
Monet's 1869 The Magpie is his largest and perhaps most beautiful winter effort. In it he manages to capture the pristinely virginal quality of fresh snow, and as always, the effects of the prevailing light. He even painted his wife, Camille, out in the snow, while he sat comfortably inside. She appears through a window in his 1870 painting The Red Cape. Pissarro was similarly interested in the winter landscape including ice flows and paintings actually rendered as the snow fell. He often painted alongside Monet at various times during the severe winters of 1879-80 and 1893. Pissarro and Alfred Sisley both painted scenes in and around the small villages where they lived, of villagers doing their best to cope with winter's most glorious inconvenience.