The Watercolor World

Watercolor world: John Anderson

Watercolor WOrld: Arthur Melville, William Page, William Holman Hunt, William Bree, Joseph Nash the elder, Waller Hugh Paton, Thomas Baker, Thomas Baker, Gabriel Carelli, Henry High Clifford, James Maurice Primrose, Arthur Melville

It’s sometimes easy to forget that painting and drawing once served the function we now assign to photography of recording places and events for reference or posterity.

Watercolor, a portable medium that could easily be used for location painting, was a favored vehicle for reportage and documentary subjects.

A recently established UK based non-profit project is building an online database of watercolors from collections around the world that document the visual world prior to 1900 and the advent of commonplace photography. The Guardian has a good article offering an overview of the project.

The Watercolor World is their growing trove of pre-1900 watercolors, primarily those depicting an identifiable place or event. Most are full-screen zoomable in high resolution. The site is treating them more as historical reference than as artworks in the usual sense, which is an interestingly different take, but doesn’t prevent viewing them for aesthetic enjoyment.

On the tab for “Watercolors“, you can use a keyword search for artist or type of subject. There are some filters, apparently a list still in development. There is a dedicated tab for “By Location”, but I didn’t find it very usable. You can browse by simply clicking “Show More” repeatedly at the bottom of the page (and being patient enough to keep going for a while).

The most fruitful way to browse may be the “Collections” page, from which you can drill down into the collections of various museums and institutions.

This is a huge trove of works you may not easily find elsewhere, so I will issue my customary Timesink Warning.

(Images above: John Anderson, Arthur Melville, William Page, William Holman Hunt, William Bree, Joseph Nash the elder, Waller Hugh Paton, Thomas Baker, Thomas Baker, Gabriel Carelli, Henry High Clifford, James Maurice Primrose, Arthur Melville)

[Thanks to Carol Roethke for the link and suggestion!]


Eye Candy for Today; Durer’s Tuft of Cowslips

Tuft of Cowslips, Albrecht Durer, gouache on vellum

Tuft of Cowslips, Albrecht Durer, gouache on vellum (details)

Tuft of Cowslips, Albrecht Durer

Gouache on vellum; roughly 8 x 7 inches (19 x 17 cm); in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, DC, which has zoomable and downloadable images. There is also a zoomable version on the Google Art Project.

Like his more well known but equally wonderful “Large Piece of Turf“, this is another example of German Renaissance painter Albrecht Durer’s keen observation of nature on an intimate scale.

Paintings like this are a reminder of how extraordinary and wonder-full the commonplace can be, and how art, at its best, can reveal the world to us in that way.

It’s also a nice example of the effective use of gouache.


James Gurney’s Living Sketchbook, Volume 3 – Court Report

James Gurney's Living Sketchbook, Volume 3 - Court Report

James Gurney's Living Sketchbook, Volume 3 - Court Report

When I first met author and artist James Gurney some years ago, I had the opportunity to leaf through one of his sketchbooks. Gurney is so accomplished that his sketchbooks often consist of page after page of beautifully realized paintings and sketches, usually in gouache or casein. My immediate thought was that he should publish them in some form, if only because I would personally like the opportunity to look through them at leisure.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but some years later, in 2017, Gurney began to do just that, publishing a few selected sketchbooks — not as a printed book or PDF file, as I might have envisioned — but as a concept he calls a “Living Sketchbook”. These are smartphone/tablet apps, developed in coordination with his son, Dan Gurney.

The Living Sketchbook apps not only allow you to flip through the sketchbook pages, but also to zoom in on the images, click to read comments, hear audio commentary, and in many cases, see short videos of Gurney working on the sketch and discussing his methods and materials. It’s about as close as you can get to sitting down with the artist and leafing through his sketchbooks while he discusses the sketches and shows you some of his techniques.

Gurney gives his actual sketchbooks names, usually based on sketches of a particular subject among those in the sketchbook, and the digital versions follow that model. I reviewed the first of the series, “Boyhood Home” when I received a Beta review copy just before it launched. After the beta expired, I bought my own copy, as well as a copy of the second in the series, “Metro North”.

I was pleased to recently receive a review copy of the third app in the series, “Court Report”, named for a few paintings of basketball players, games and announcers and that Gurney did at the invitation of the NBA. The bulk of the sketchbook, like the other two, ranges through a variety of Gurney’s subjects and approaches to sketching and painting. In this case there are a number of winter landscape scenes, as well as studies of people, houses, diners, animals, cars and other subjects.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about Gurney’s Living Sketchbook apps — in addition to the beautiful reproduction of the art and the depth of the accompanying information — is their portability. It’s like having a little packet of painting inspiration that I can enjoy anytime and anywhere, from waiting for an appointment to taking a break while plein air painting.

“Court Report” and the other two volumes in the series are available in the App Stores for both iOS an Android for $4.99 each.

You can find more information, images and video flip-throughs on Gurney’s blog.


Eye Candy for Today: Francesco Novelli ink and wash drawing

Francesco Novelli, Diana and Her Hounds, ink and wash drawing

Frencesco Novelli, Diana and Her Hounds, ink and wash drawing (details)

Diana and Her Hounds, Francesco Novelli

Pen and black ink with brown wash; roughly 5 x 4″ (13 x 10 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum.

I don’t know much about Francesco Novelli, who was active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but I find this drawing interesting for several reasons.

First, it’s simply a beautifully realized drawing. The basic ink drawing, in black, is composed of broken lines, with spaces open at many points. The brown wash fills in the form and gives the figure dimension and solidity, but the overall effect is a drawing with a loose, open feeling.

Deft value relationships add to the composition and the sensation of grace and motion, particularly in the clothing and drapery. I love the way he has use the brush and brown wash like pen hatching along the curved surfaces of the figure’s arms and legs and the bodies of the dogs.

What I didn’t notice at first — likely because the drawing is so beautifully done — is that to my eye, the proportions of the arms, particularly the figure’s left arm, seem out of proportion to the figure. The arms also look more like they belong to a male figure.

It was not uncommon for artists to employ male models for female figures; it was easier and cheaper to use a male studio assistant as a model than to hire a female model. (I believe most of the female figures of the sibyls on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling were studied from male models.)

Though it might have been intended as a finished piece, the drawing has the look of a preparatory drawing for a painting or print, but I can’t find much information on Novelli, let alone a specific work that might be sourced from this.


Edward Julius Detmold

Edward Julius Detmold, classic illustration, animal illustration

Edward Julius Detmold, classic illustration, animal illustration

Edward Julius Detmold and his twin brother Charles Maurice Detmold were book illustrators active in the “Golden Age” of illustration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Both were interested in natural history and animals, and even in their illustrations for books like Kipling’s The Jungle Book and The Fables of Aesop, their images were more likely to feature animals than people.

Both worked in watercolor and ink and were influenced by Japanese Prints, Art Nouveau and the Pre-Raphaelite painters as well as their contemporary illustrators.

I can’t find as much information about Charles, so I’ve focused here on Edward Detmold, and the images shown are (as far as I can determine) by Edward.


Eye Candy for Today: John Carlin watercolor portrait miniature

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory (detail)

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin

Watercolor on ivory, roughly 4 x 3 inches (9 x 7 cm); in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s possible that this is a grayscale image of a more colorful painting — the Met’s website pages doesn’t comment — but my guess is that it was painted monochromatically.

The portrait is obviously of a real and not idealized person, and sensitively painted in that wonderful drybrush/stipple watercolor technique that was prevalent in the mid to late 19th century.

At that time, it was commonplace to paint small portraits in watercolor on ivory, often in an oval as part of a broach. In this case, the painting is rectangular, but not much larger than an oval might have been.

I find it interesting that the artist has balanced with composition with the edge of a chair and the suggestion of a room corner behind the sitter.