Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century, working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school, Hudson River School, and Impressionists.
The popularity of painting en plein air increased in the 1840s with the introduction of paints in tubes (like those for toothpaste).
Young Nichols was sent on trip to Dakota Territories by Century Magazine during Fall of 1886 to draw sketches en plein air of the Sioux tribes.
Harley DeWitt Nichols (1859-1939)
Born in the small rural Wisconsin town of Barton, Harley lived a peripatetic life. As a young child, he accompanied his family to Lincoln, Nebraska where he found great excitement in the roaming herds of buffalo and Native Americans. It was in these years that a talent for drawing was discovered.
In 1870, after several years of hardship, his father moved the family back to Wisconsin and at the age of 11 Harley became a water boy for the railroad line being built from Milwaukee to his birthplace of Barton. When his family moved next to the First Ward in Milwaukee, he remained with his grandparents in Barton paying board despite his meager earnings.
Eventually he moved to join his family and began school at the First Ward schoolhouse. At this time he was employed by a “third class” wood engraver. That led to an apprenticeship with the Milwaukee firm Marr & Richards, where he worked for three years drawing on wood. This would have led to a position as an engraver, but during his apprenticeship Nichols realized that drawing, rather than engraving, was where his true talent lay…