Alla prima. Paul Cezanne. The artist at work. 1875

Alla prima – painting of energetic and courageous artists

Alfred Sisley. Barges at Billancourt. 1877
Alfred Sisley. Barges at Billancourt. 1877

Painting of energetic and courageous artists: the essence of technology, advantages, disadvantages, history

Alla prima (from Italian a la prima – “on the first try”) is a painting technique in which the artist paints a picture in one session, until the colors are completely dry. To achieve the desired result in the alla prima technique, a painter must work quickly and confidently. Applying a second layer of paint on a wet, not yet dry first one requires special skill from the author and an intuitive understanding of the essence of the process.

Alla Prima is ideal for painting in a dynamic and expressive manner. In the hands of the master, it surprisingly helps to reveal new possibilities of traditional painting materials: oil or watercolors.

Claude Monet. Impression. Sunrise. 1872
Claude Monet. Impression. Sunrise. 1872

Pros and cons of alla prima

Alla Prima, like any other painting technique, has certain advantages and disadvantages. They are worth paying attention not only to beginners, but also to experienced artists.

The advantages of technology include:

  • High, literally in one breath, the speed of painting, which allows the painter to capture the state of nature “here and now” on canvas.
  • The opportunity to see the finished work in the shortest possible time and enjoy its contemplation.
  • Overcoming common artist fears (fear of starting or not finishing work on time, sudden disappointment and numerous self-doubts in the process of writing a work).
Henri Matisse. Sunflowers in a vase. 1899
Henri Matisse. Sunflowers in a vase. 1899

The disadvantages of this technique also deserve a special mention:

  • Some incompleteness of paintings, often annoying perfectionist people.
  • The difficulty of accurately conveying volume and shape, colors and shades on canvas or paper without a certain amount of practical experience.
  • Simplicity of the composition due to the lack of time for careful drawing of details.
  • Alla Prima is not suitable for all artists, but any novice painter can try her hand at her. Especially someone who is not afraid to experiment and is eager to gain recognition.
Alla prima.John Singer Srgent. Sweet idleness. 1909
John Singer Srgent. Sweet idleness. 1909

Alla Prima’s story

Alla prima has been known in the visual arts since the 16th century. Initially, it was used for auxiliary purposes: when writing portrait sketches or landscape sketches. Subsequently, the painter, based on the sketches available in his workshop, for a long time created a finished work. But already a century later, the attitude towards technology has changed. Many outstanding masters of the Baroque and then Rococo began to use it as the main method of painting.

Alla prima. Paul Cezanne. The artist at work. 1875
Paul Cezanne. The artist at work. 1875

In the middle of the 19th century, Alla Prima experienced a true heyday thanks, first of all, to Claude Monet. One of the founders of Impressionism was able to discern the enormous possibilities of this technique for conveying the author’s fleeting impressions on canvas. A classic example of Monet’s creativity can be called without a doubt the painting “Impression. Sunrise “, written by the great master in just such a manner.

Alla prima. Thomas Gainsborough. Returning from the harvest. 1784
Thomas Gainsborough. Returning from the harvest. 1784
In subsequent years, painting “raw” was in demand among representatives of other areas of art:
  • post-impressionism;
  • expressionism;
  • modernism;
  • avant-garde.

And today, many painters create their works using this original technique, and thousands of novice artists hone their professional skills with its help.

Alla prima. Vincent van Gogh. Starlight Night. 1889
Vincent van Gogh. Starlight Night. 1889
Famous artists who worked in alla prima

The most famous artists who used alla prima include the following artists:

  1. Diego Velázquez is the famous Spanish Baroque master, consummate portrait painter and court painter of the Spanish king.
  2. Frans Hals is a brilliant representative of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, the author of numerous portrait paintings, painted in contrasting colors.
  3. Jean-Honoré Fragonard is a French Rococo painter, author of colorful pastorals, landscapes and historical paintings.
  4. Thomas Gainsborough is an English master of fine arts who created his many works with light strokes in an extremely short time.
  5. Claude Monet is a genius impressionist who inspired hundreds of followers with his work, the author of many stunning landscapes.
  6. Winslow Homer (Winslow Homer) – the founder of realism in American painting, an outstanding marine painter and master of the genre.