OUT & ABOUT: Watercolours @ the Tate Britain

John Dunstall

Emma Block visits the Tate Britain to see their latest exhibition – a bold look at the uniquely versatile world of watercolours

The Tate Britain’s Watercolour exhibition is a bold show that encompasses the entire history of watercolour painting, from the 12th century maps to contemporary works. The exhibition charts how this uniquely versatile material has been used over the centuries to capture both atmospheric qualities and incredible scientific detail.

The first use of watercolour dates back to the 1100s where maps were painted on velum. Some over early painting such as this one from the 1600s feels surprisingly modern.

The botanical painting room was one of my favourites. These beautiful and


astoundingly accurate paintings were created with up to twenty or thirty translucent washes of colour, and sometimes a little gouache and pencil. In a time before camera, the watercolour artist was a vital way to record new discoveries in the natural world.

Due to it’s portable nature watercolours were also the medium of choice to capture the world around on a larger scale. Turner was the luminary of this practice. Light and mood were as important as the geography.

The room dedicated to the relationship of watercolour and the war was a particularly powerful one. the knowledge that these works were painted during the midst of the first and second world war, not retrospectively, makes them all more moving.

Mark Catesby

The next rooms explore the physical limitation of watercolour, dripped, splashed and pooled onto paper, and the seemingly limitless

human imagination. Artist’s such as Edmund Dulac, Aubrey Beardsley, Gabriel Dante Rossetti and William Blake all use the medium of watercolour to convey other-worldliness and flights of fancy.

The exhibition is on until August 21. For more information, visit the gallery’s website.

All images © the respective artists. To view the images in clearer detail, click on them.


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