The history of the artist's easel can be traced back through millennia. Its invention has enabled artists to spend dedicated time to their subject, either in the studio or outside – the practice of which is called 'en plein air' (French for 'in the open air').
An early form of the easel can be found on an inscription in ancient Egypt – who also used them to display paintings, but the first written account was from the Roman author Pliny the Elder. Subsequent use can be found across classical ancient Europe and Asia in various forms.
The word easel is derived from the old Germanic word for donkey, 'Esel'; an animal traditionally associated with carrying heavy loads on its back.