Though he was also accomplished in oil, 19th century Scottish painter Arthur Melville is know in particular for his unique and influential style of watercolor painting.
Melville’s approach was radical and very different from the mainstream of British watercolorists at the time.
Though he worked in transparent watercolor, Melville painted on specially prepared paper which he soaked in a dilute solution of opaque Chinese White (Zinc White), so that the paper was prepared almost like a lead white oil ground. He applied his color onto the wet surface, allowing it to pool in shapes that composed his forms, with the white ground adding extra luminosity (a method similar to the oil on wet ground method adopted by the Pre-Raphaelite painters).
Melville’s application can look casual and haphazard, but his technique was reportedly very exacting — he sometimes worked out the application of color areas on glass held over the painting surface before applying them to the painting itself.
Melville travelled extensively and many of his subjects were in the vein of Orientalism, and the faces in the crowds in his market and street scenes were often composed of his characteristic blobs of color, with little detail.
There is an extensive retrospective of Melville’s work, the first in 35 years, currently on view at the National Galleries Scotland. Arthur Melville: Adventures in Colour runs until 17 January 2016.
There is also a new book accompanying the exhibit, simply titled Arthur Melville.