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 The site is treating them more as historical reference than as artworks in the usual sense, which is an interestingly different take, but doesn’t prevent viewing them for aesthetic enjoyment.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!]