Roland Richardson: Father of Caribbean Impressionism

St. Martin’s Roland Richardson captures the island’s beauty in his plein-air paintings.

Roland Richardson
Richardson’s paintings have been displayed in France, the Netherlands, the Middle East, Russia, the United States and more. Laura Richardson

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One glimpse of Roland Richardson’s plein-air paintings, and it’s clear why he’s known as the “father of Caribbean impressionism.” Just as Claude Monet memorialized haystacks and water lilies, the St. Martin native captures his home island’s fiery flamboyants (the national tree) and the soothing, surrounding turquoise seas.

When he launched his career on St. Martin in 1970 after studying art abroad, “no one else was addressing the people, the landscapes, the seas, the colors,” Richardson says. “I had an unlimited pure subject wherever I turned. I didn’t need to fabricate anything. I only needed to devote myself to observing with the intention of learning from it.”

With family roots on St. Martin that stretch back three centuries, Richardson has endeavored to preserve the island’s beauty and culture. He spearheaded the restoration of Fort Louis, overlooking Marigot Harbor, and documented the island’s history and architecture as the founding editor of Discover St. Martin-St. Maarten magazine. But it’s his artistic creations—be they in oil, watercolor or ink—that most resonate.

Visitors can find not only a gallery of his work at La Samanna Resort but also, sometimes, Richardson himself. He frequently hosts painting demonstrations where he philosophizes on light and color, and creates another of his signature scenes.

What makes St. Martin such an ideal outdoor studio? We’re in a region that, to a great degree, is still unpolluted. The light is pure, and the color is living and vivid and intense and joyous.  What are the challenges of painting en plein air? Engineering is one of the deep secrets of plein-air painting. You can’t pick up your brush and make that first stroke until you’ve solved how to set up and stabilize your canvas. That’s why most plein-air paintings are tiny; the size doesn’t pose a problem.

Recommendations for St. Martin

L’auberge Gourmande (Grand Case): We’ve known the owner, Pascal, for 30 years. He is a talented, award-winning restaurateur, and his team is amazing.

Mezza Luna (Nettle Bay): They have the most wonderful pizza and fresh, quality Italian dishes. It’s great value for the money.

The Lolos (Grand Case): These four restaurants are right on the water and have fresh fish, as well as ribs and chicken. The fresh snapper is my favorite. It’s a great local experience.

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