'Watercolour'

By Hardy, Pat | British Art Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

'Watercolour'


Hardy, Pat, British Art Journal


'Watercolour'

Tate Britain 16 February-21 August 2011

A simple conception, executed with Tate's usual business efficiency, belies the sensitivity of the selection and the occasional brilliance of the hang of this unusual show. Growing out of 'Watercolour in Britain', an exhibition formed by a partnership between Tate, Norwich, the Graves Gallery in Sheffield and the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle (which had a rather rushed feel to it when viewed at this last venue), 'Watercolour' at Tare Britain exuded a more confident and frankly luxurious air. It is premised on the idea that watercolour is a misunderstood medium, and this Tate exhibition played on the stereotype and sought to turn it inside out. Juxtapositions such as Samuel Palmer's A Hilly Scene, c1826-8 and Christopher Le Brun's Ziggurat, 2007; Thomas Girtin's The White House at Chelsea, 1800, and Turner's The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, 1842; Eric Ravilious's The Vale of the White Horse, c1939 and Burra's Valley and River, Northumberland, 1972, stood out as prime examples of the medium and made the case. The manipulation of light effects, mastery of perspective, daring viewpoints, blending of colour, and artistic influence are all examined successfully in this exhibition. But while there were many intriguing examples of watercolours (indeed the space resembled an army recruiting ground with phalanxes of infantry assembling to move forward in a constant replacement and replenishment from those which had remained in storage and could be brought out for future shows) the very materiality of watercolour overshadowed some of the theoretical constructs of the exhibition, namely those relating to the amateur status of the watercolour artist and the thesis of its uniquely British identity, both of which frankly felt tangential to the centrality of what actually constituted a watercolour.

The exhibition is broadly chronological and aims to answer the basic questions of what is the substance of watercolour, who were its principal exponents and what was the subject-matter. The first question is deftly handled in a separate interpretation section which showcases the development of this kind of paint, focusing on the portability point through the display of materials, pigments, paint-pots and brushes from Queen Victoria's Winsor and Newton painting satchel to explanations of wove paper. This portability does not, however, explain the necessity dexterity required to paint in watercolour but does bolster the view that these widely available materials were available in almost every gentrified family in Britain over the last 300 years.

All of which gives a technical framework to explore the substantial narrative of 'Watercolour', a narrative which fuels, not surprisingly, more questions than it answers. Progressing through widely thematic and often overlapping sections, the exhibition opens with a suitably sombre-coloured room to explain how watercolour was used in illuminated manuscripts, map-making and miniatures. This section then appears to set a familiar trajectory by focusing on views and perspectives, the usual subject matter of the union of landscape and watercolour but each work here does make a point about the development of watercolour in the period. Wenceslas Hollar's View from Peterborough Tower, Tangier Castle, c1669, for example, prefigures the expertise brought to later topographical watercolours by military draughtsman trained to plot newly acquired lands, picked up, for example, by the Sandbys in the mid-18th century (one of many important watercolourists underrepresented here). The title A Prospect of the Lands and Forts, within ye Line of Communication before Tangier, now in the Possession of the English, drawne from Peterborow Tower by Wenceslaus Hollar, his Majties designer in September Ao 1669 (one of 14 drawings in the series) refers to Britain's military history in the tiny red-coated figures seeking to defend a tiny and unwanted colony, dynastic networking having brought Tangier under the Stuart umbrella as the dowry of Charles II's wife.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'Watercolour'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.