Search This Blog

Friday, 25 March 2011

Watercolour at Tate Britain

I have been excited about seeing the Watercolour exhibition at Tate Britain since it opened a month or so ago. The selection brings together the work of many different artists, with only the theme of medium to unite them. One may think of watercolour as a narrow medium but this show truly illustrates otherwise. Depicting a huge range of subject matter we can see how it can be used in different ways to create an astonishing variety of affects.

The work is displayed in a series of rooms under very loose themes, beginning with a section of early British paintings. Here there are some awe inspiringly detailed pictures by masters like Anthony Van Dyck and John Dunstall. I loved the cute little jewellery pendants in this room – tiny watercolour portraits on vellum or ivory, framed and sometimes surrounded by delicate pearls or diamonds. They are so beautiful and show a real insight into the lucky owner’s life.

Watercolour is a very intimate art, susceptible to disaster: a drop of water ruining a masterpiece or an hour of sunlight fading the painted image. It is frequently employed for studies prior to a final composition, and for experimenting and documenting. Paintings done with gouache, a creamier opaque kind of water-based paint, are included occasionally in this show for which I was grateful - I personally love the affects. One of the later rooms, ‘Exploring the medium,’ gives a deeper analysis of the techniques and uses of watercolour. Here you can see examples of raw pigments and the changes to them when diluted and dispersed by water.

My favourite works in this exhibition are those by the dreaming Romantics William Blake, Victor Hugo and Samuel Palmer. Their intense mythical paintings show inner visions, amazing atmospheres and extreme imagination. The translucent quality of watercolour is ideal for these dreamlike images and their mood really left an impression on me.

In my opinion the most wonderful thing about watercolour is its versatility, it can be easily transported, taken around with you to use whenever you desire. This means otherwise difficult painting conditions are made possible, hence watercolour became the medium used most often in war. It is a practical medium for extreme conditions.

This is a rare chance to view such a wealth of quiet masterpieces in the same place, and is well worth a visit.

Continues until 21 August 2011, book here.


  1. Hi Milly, thank you for dropping by my blog. Sorry it took me a while to say hello back. Been so busy with work. You know, I actually love watercolour art. The technique is a lot softer and more delicate. By the way, I love London. been there 3 times and hopefully another trip soon but doesn't look that likely though. Haha. Have a nice day there!

  2. I really should check this out!