Watercolor, or watercolour, with an added “u” if you learned your English in England (grin), has a long history, perhaps going back to cave paintings that predate most of recorded history.
Watercolor involves the creation of paint by suspending pigment in a water soluble binder, for a long time animal hide glues or plant sugars, but as of the 19th Century, gum arabic, made from the sap of acacia trees.
Though watercolor has been around for all of that time, its use by artists was predominantly relegated to studies, location sketches and personal notation. It wasn’t until the 18th Century that artists, most notably in England, brought watercolor to the fore as an artistic medium for finished works.
A new exhibition at the Tate Britain seeks to celebrate and expand on that heritage. Simply called “Watercolour“, the exhibit traces the history of watercolor back over 800 years, features a wide variety of artists, styles, periods and subject matter, and of course brings forward the greats of the “English School” of watercolorists, including William Blake and JMW Turner along with the Pre-Raphaelites and a number of contemporary painters.
It seeks to broaden the perception of watercolor as a medium, beyond the bounds of the common association of watercolor with landscape, amateur painters and sketches.
Unfortunately the Tate hasn’t put much of the exhibition online, but there are a few images and some videos on the site (one of which shows you Turner’s portable watercolor palette), as well as other images on the Tate Blog.
The best selection of images from the exhibition is probably in the Guardian article, Watercolor at Tate Britain – in pictures, and accompanying the text articles Tate Britain makes a splash with watercolours and Tate Britain’s Watercolour: Awash with inspiration (they’re so witty, those British), and Watercolour at Tate Britain – review.
Watercolor at Tate Britain runs until 21 August 2011.
(Images above: JMW Turner, Rachael Pedder-Smith, Paul Sandby, JMW Turner, William Blake, Thomas Girtin)