Our exhibition Watercolour is now open at Tate Britain.

Visitor looking at Sandra Blow 'Vivace' 1988

Sandra Blow Vivace 1988: what do you think?

© Estate of Sandra Blow

In it, we set out to reveal the extraordinary and varied history of watercolour and to encourage people to see this fascinating medium in a slightly different way.

John Dunstall 'A Pollard Oak near West Hampnett Place, Chichester' c1660

Historic or contemporary? John Dunstall’s ‘A Pollard Oak near West Hampnett Place, Chichester’, (c1660).

Courtsey British Museum

Did the show change your perceptions of watercolour? Or perhaps you have a theory about why watercolour seems to be a particularly British phenomenon?

Jacques Le Moyne, drawing from drawings from an album: figs (c.1585).

The natural world: Jacques Le Moyne, drawing from drawings from an album: Figs c.1585

Courtesy The British Museum

As lead Curator on Watercolour at Tate Britain, I’m extremely keen to hear the thoughts and opinions of our visitors.

Please post your messages on the Tate blog below. We look forward to hearing from you.

Alison Smith Lead Curator, Watercolour


Eve Wade

Brilliant exhibition. It just illustrates how versatile Watercolour is as a medium. I thought the different categories were laid out in a very interesting and wide-ranging manner from the delicate botanical illustrations through to the harder to take themes of war.

One of my favourites was the very washey Patrick Heron painting and needless to say the incomparable Turner.

I paint myself and use different mediums but would say that Watercolour lies closest to my heart. Thank you!


inspiring exhibition and so educational. will visit again and again. the beauty of watercolour is the challenge that faces you at all time. one is always in battle with a media that has a mind of its own. thank you tate.


i really enjoyed the choice of the works chosen , it covered all taste and gave me contemporary enlightenment !! more of the like please.

John Ramsey

I came to this exhibition after viewing the Watteau drawings: from specific focus of one artist over a few years to a wide ranging review of one medium over centuries. And it worked for me. Great curation, helpful informed comments, beautiful images from old favourites to many lovely surprises. In particular the section on the evolution of materials - may be this angle could have been developed further in future exhibitions - how do the effects get created, how is that detail built up?

James Swarbrick

Unfortunately, we decided to fly back to the USA earlier than planned because of the fear of the ash cloud coming south and messing up flights out of Gatwick. So -- we missed the exhibition!! And then it appears the damn clould didn't come south after all!

deirdre mcardle

(of course there was Delacroix he had a good stab at it ! well and J.L.David even,then of course John Martin,but I always think his paintings don't look like planet earth! )


I do agree with your comment. I found the show interesting at the beginning, where it starts with maps and book paintings and paintings in the field and the botanical illustrations. But then I couldn't see any more the central thread.

Rhodri Farthing

Incredibly informative, both my wife and I loved the chronological layout and the flow. The best exhibition within the last 12 months. The Pre-raphaelite, the Charles Rennie Mackintosh, botanicals and the Turner references were particularly enjoyable. As other bloggers have referenced the 'modern' finish was not that interesting! Overall well done Tate, excellent.

Valerie Robinson

I loved it and found it very refreshing. The breadth of exhibits from the early maps to modern painting was surprising and as a very modest collector of watercolours was inspired. But I had hoped you might have had an Audubon amongs the birds and flowers. Congratulations.

Ian Jamieson

I wish I had been able to see it. My wife became ill on the morning and so we couldn't go. It would be nice to have an opportunity to reschedule on the website and not completely lose the money we had paid.

David E

Yes, the range of paintings was good, but the quality was disappointing. There are vastly better examples of Turner and Girtin's work in the medium. Also of the 'lesser' artists such as Varley and Towne. And what criteria were used in choosing the modern works? However there was enough grit, both ancient and modern, to give the show passing interest.


I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours viewing this exhibition. Much of it was helpfully informative but I have to agree with the comments about the final room and in particular the plastic bag, twigs and spoon. What a contrast with Turner's doodles, which he never intended to be exhibited, and yet show how much he put in to preparing his works that we so much appreciate still today.

Deirdre Porter-...

Didn't intend to visit the show...but had a quick look in on way to Susan Hiller...and then it was three hours later...fascinating and wonderfully informative re artists and techniques. Loved the intimacy of the Turner sketches , alongside meticulous detail of the botanical work and then on to the versatility of the contemporary artists...time well spent...and Susan Hiller show was brill too by the way.

Johnny Grim

Most absorbing, and glad to see at least one Arthur Melville (stunning watercolourist) included...liked the witty positioning of the Turner doodles at the end.

deirdre mcardle

(& Bierstadt,again a bit freaky somehow)

michael letton

An uneven experience: as if in a library with shelves marked "writing", I needed orienting. I have referred back to the useful catalogue so as to align my appreciation of your divisions which are interesting. The last[Abstraction and Improvistation] was unsatisfying, almost insulting. Some of exhibits could have been in any medium. A piece of pink plastic is not given any extra credibility by being in the Tate Gallery above that which I credit it for being in my back garden. The first[Intimate Knowledge] had beautiful and impressive manuscripts, miniatures,and maps dating from 1200-1810, I enjoyed these. Why is the van Dyke here- it contributes more in Travel and Topography? The Natural World made its case well, through history and with talent; but only Rachel Pedder Smith and Margaret Mee from today to compensate for the weakness of 21C items in the Abstract section. I found myself looking for a time-line in the sections: the first section in 1200, the last is 2010, but this is not really a cronological exhibition. Yet it is, because watercolour was the only show for a period, but it waned after 1850, and you do follow this- in a disjointed way. Now, there are many who love the medium today, [I think of Moish Sokal's luminous illustration in Somerset- quote from his website "I love watercolours, it is such a clean clear and simple medium.." ] and also it is an introduction for our children into artistic expression. You would not know, from this exhibition.

Hannah Louise

Unfortunately I was extremely disappointed with this exhibition. As mentioned, why were Acrylics included? Where was Hockney? Overall, I thought the exhibition was far too safe! So much more could have been done!

deirdre mcardle

(the Dutch were the past masters (ha ) of landscape though but usually used that low horizon to immediately locate the deep space thing,so I suppose there the sky and the land area could be handled separately really, the land being worked dark to light towards highlights given from the sun. )

michael letton

Where did this one come from?

Coral Howard

I went with two friends to see this exhibition and we greatly enjoyed the earlier works including of course Turner, the maps, horticultural paintings, flora and fauna, but to be frank most of the modern work was appalling, and even the Victorian works were dark, heavy, oppressive and suffered from their over elaborate gold mounting and framing. Really a mixed bag. The work by Tracey Emin was truly lamentable! Even Kapoor who I admire failed to impress.

Stephen Davies

Thoroughly enjoyable with many unfamiliar works certainly expanding my knowledge -loved the section on the medium. No Hockney and a bit thin in general on contemporary work might be considerations if you ever programme a sequel.

Mike Makai

Well themed rooms and a good audio guide. Very pleasing to see and learn more about artists I knew little of.

John Kinnear

Enlightening exhibition. Watercolour and War was unexpected and haunting. Not impressed by the audio guide- I do not normally bother with these and unfortunately this one reminded me why.

suzanne thomas

I really enjoyed it. You hgad such a wide ranging collection and all excellent pieces in their own rights. Plus the use of watercolor was explored widely. I never use watercolour myself but felt inspired to experiment. Also it was GREAT to be in a major exhibition that wasn't so packed that you couldn't see anything. Thanks

Peter Lloyd

Really enjoyed the exhibition and well worth the travel from Herefordshire.Not over keen on the modern paintings,particularly the war section.However,the rest more than made up for any disappointment. While on our visit also visited the Romantics Exhibition which put the icing on the cake as far as our day out at Tate Britain was concerned.

Katie Daniel

The history of the use of watercolour was interesting but I was disappointed with the choice of paintings. To me it felt quite traditional and I'd have liked more contemporary work to go alongside this. I'm sure the work chosen isn't amongst the best available (I've seen better at Tate Britain) and it felt a little same-y. The 4 modern works in the middle room were more to my taste, especially the Kapoor.

Michael Till

Firstly the title "Watercolour is pretty meaningless when one considers all the different media shown; anyway its a stupid title. I agree with Danielle's comments. There was a distinct lack of good contemporary watercolours thus leaving the impression that this was a medium of the past. There was also a lack of first class Turners, Cotmans and Whistler just to name a few. The exhibition was too crowded and pictures were often difficult to view. Would it inspire a newcomer to the medium to go out and experiment with what is after all an extraordinary medium -the answer has to be "no" Overall dissapointing but well done to the Tate for trying! By the way some of the modern work particularly Tracy Emin was an insult to intelligence

Jackie Leonard

I really liked the Watercolour exhibition. It was very stimulating and well laid out. I also, as usual, enjoyed the audio guide to accompany the exhibition.

I love watercolour and it was interesting to see it being used in different ways, and how over the years it has been used.

Many of the pictures stood out for their beauty or interest, including the picture of seeds against a white background by a female artist (I'm sorry I have forgotten her name), which was very beautiful and detailed.

I was still thinking about the exhibition a day or so after. An exciting display.


As someone who knows nothing about the technique and its uses, it was fascinating. I didn't get all the way round, so will go back and have another look at the modern stuff.


Truly surprising and enlightening. The depth of colour, the range of subjects was fantastic. We will go again and again.

robert s

A great show with surprising depth. I had no idea about the watercolours that were done 200+ years ago. Fascinating and I'm going to go back again--the Tate was rather crowded on Sunday (wonderful for you!)


I am a child of ignorance, every exhibition teaches me something and I enjoyed this one tremendously - some pictures were exhaustingly beautiful. Yes, me too, the earlier displays were more enjoyable - I struggle with "accidental/situational" modern art and deliberate ugliness or vulgarity - the plastic thing looked like a giant version of the plastic on an old fashioned sanitary towel - was that the point - complete with spatters of blood - yuk! I loved reading the comments above and a big fan of the commentary tapes. Very pleased to be a member and experience much joy chugging between TB and TM on the river!!

Kim Lewis

This was fascinating...I loved seeing the artists' original sets of paints and the comparisons of Turner watercolours through copies using gouache/no gouache. I was a little confused by the gouache paintings on show later on...and tempera and other materials...but it would have been interesting to see them validated by a materials display showing the differences they have to watercolour or how they try to imitate it. I would love to know how some of the colours are so vivid on some of the very old pieces. I do wonder how many people found the watercolour sets through the ages more interesting than the final two rooms. It was fascinating to see the work of Parkinson and how it was translated into print. It would have been fascinating to see Merian's work alongside... but she's not British....unfortunately neither are Nolde, Klee and Cezanne... Victor Hugo? It might be informative and pleasing to contrast the styles and techniques of other cultures- notably Chinese watercolours.I loved the monkey but its not typical. Its a long time since I've been to an exhibition where I could hear audible gasps of amazement and delight in the works on display and not just from myself. Thanks for putting on a great show...very inspiring.

peter mulligan

Terrific but I agree with some other posts: I wasn't sure I understood why watercolour was the overarching theme........could these paintings not have been done in oil? Would they look different ? I wouldn't have minded a comparison to look at.. I loved it though and will go again. Great to see Samual Palmer.

deirdre mcardle

each layer of oil paint as traditionally applied lies on top of the last with a layer of varnish in between (we have fabulous bods from the National Gallery who can tell all this better than I !) This achieved a lustre in depth; oil paint was worked from dark to light ,ie.darks first ,lights last. Perspective was used to present deep space: tiny vista in the distance etc. but in watercolour tonality fragility thinness could evoke far distance :it could be vague looking ,the viscosity of oil paint would not sit back that far. A flick of the hand could deliver a range of organic gestures that emulated nature,light ,and even a sense of immanence /transcendance ie.time etc. (ohh-see the Romantics!)again dashing off,other know better.

Doug Spencer

I saw this show on the 29th April, which meant a very sparse audience and the bonus of missing somebody's wedding. I was impressed by the scope of the exhibition, the variety of the exhibits and by the layout showing how the technique developed over the years. I have always liked watercolours, but the exhibition showed me the variety of subjects that are posssible. Well done the team.

Howard Davis

Overall I enjoyed the variety of watercolours on display, however, I agree that the contemporary section was very disappointing. I found that, as I walked from room to room, I was name checking far too much - oh look there's a ... oh, I recognise that, wasn't it used for the cover of his poems ... etc. but then that is one of the privileges of being a member that you don't have to try and absorb too much on the first visit to a new exhibition. I'll be back, but if I'm honest, I'm more looking forward to seeing the Susan Hiller exhibition again.

Peter Hussey

We attended the show on Friday 18th Feb, first thing in the morning. At that time the rooms were light and pleasant. The range of work had been made with too much concern for the press release, illustrated manuscripts to Tracy Emin might be eye catching for the editor, but doesn't work for the punter. I loved all the early rooms, and was amazed at how modern and crisp some of the Botanicals were, even those that are over four centuries old. There are bound to be restrictions on the choices that curators can make, but I thought that, for the most part, those items that were there made useful statements, and created a well worthwhile exhibition. The exception, it would appear for most people, were the more recent pieces, Emin and the plastic sheet more than most. Well worth the visit, we will want to attend future exhibitions.

Peers de Trense

Loved it. Loved looking at the techniques and understanding the progression of styles and materials used to develop the art of watercolour

Bridget McKenzie

We had a really enjoyable visit to Watercolour, combined with seeing the Romantics display in the Clore and the Blake phrenology/physiognomy display (and also seeing Susan Hiller). My daughter had played William Blake in a school show so she wanted to see work by him and others like him. So it was a great success from that point of view, as there was so much visionary imagery to explore. It was interesting to compare this with the much more scientific botanical illustrations and maps. (Incidentally I was excited to see the parish map of Smallburgh as this is where I grew up.) I agree with the Observer article which criticised the exhibition for being a bit lateral in places and the final note of the droopy pink plastic sculpture was a let down. There is so much strong contemporary work in watercolour, but also testing assumptions about the medium, which could have been included.

Claudia Piper

I was lucky enough to see 'Watercolour' first thing on Friday morning and it was blissfully uncrowded and enjoyable. The early rooms were positively eye opening as I had previously had little appreciation of the depth of colour and detail possible in watercolour. I agree with many of the above comments, notably Barrie Brown and Edith Robson, in as much as my huge enjoyment of the earlier works was not matched by the final contemporary room which I found very disappointing. I have a passion for contemporary art, but these examples were not in any way inspiring. Having said that, I will most definitely return to the first seven rooms of the exhibition to indulge a new found taste for watercolour. Thank you!

Jim Barron

I found this exhibition to be very informative. I am not an artist, and I always thought that watercolour paintings could only be "washy".

I was surprised and pleased to see the many ways in which watercolours could be used. The explanations of how differing results could be achieved was also gratefully recieved, and so see the tools used by the artists was very interesting.

If I am honest, I walked into this exhibition thinking that as I am a member I would take a quick tour and be out within a few minutes, and that taking advantage of my membership I would not "waste" any money in paying to look around.

But I was very pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the afternoon very much!


I love watercolour - grew up in Norwich enjoying the Norwich School galleries from an early age. But this exhibition was just dull. I felt it reinforced, rather than challenged, the view of watercolour as a rather ponderous, and dreary medium. I found little to enjoy and missed the sense of delicately calligraphic brushwork and subtle delight in colour that I had hoped for. Others have already remarked on the many omissions and I feel the story and narrative of watercolour as a genre is not well told. To be honest it felt like a cheap exhibition of, too often, second rate examples and inconsequential padding. I am sorry about this because it will now be many years before the Tate will be able to mount an exhibition which genuinely offers a 'boundary-breaking survey which celebrates the full variety of ways watercolour has been used'

Nicola Gresswell

Another curatorial oddity that defies logic and ignores so much. I dont know how on earth one is supposed to make sense of an exhibition entitled Watercolour - it is like having a show called Drawing - far too broad a subject to do it justice ! If this is the English tradition of, then why not revert back to a bit of developmental chronology, the history of, not just this thematic hotch potch. Where was the whole wall of lots and lots of Cotman Cox Girtin and Turner which epitomize the C18 English w/colour tradition? Why not a whole room of Palmer Sutherland Nash Burra Ravilious Piper? Nevertheless I was gratified to stumble across old friends such as Ravilious's White Horse and Holman Hunt's Eggs, plus 'new' gems (to me) like Francis Towne and Simeon Solomon amongst the otherwise rather dull Piper, truely dreadful Emin, intriguing Franklin, eloquent McKeevor, emotive Hodgkin - but sadly not a Blackadder in sight: weird! Why no Ardizzone? Why Procter but no Hockney - when they worked alongside one another for years? Quite mystifying and disappointing, with vicarious and not always good examples of contemporary work interspersed at random it seems. I will no doubt return though, possibly even reappraise, certainly to gloat at one or two delights that are normally secreted away in the stores, but overall I came away wishing for a more comprehensive selection , more examples of every genre, and longing for a clearer historical outline and a stronger linear approach: after all Watercolour is still very English and very much alive - and I hope no longer underrated as serious medium and artistic expression .

Karl Newman

We really enjoyed the show. It was very interesting to trace the history of watercolour from its early use as a medium for creating maps and botanical drawings through to the present day. The standout artists for me are Turner (of course), Ravilious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Peter Doig. I agree with some of the other comments though in that the show was weakened by the inclusion of works in gouache and acrylic, suggesting perhaps that watercolour alone is not a sufficiently expressive medium in its own right. Also, among the contemporary artists shown, I was surprised that there were no Hockneys or Elizabeth Blackadder who I think is a fantastic exponent of the medium. I guess you can't include everything though!

Chris White

A very well mixed exhibition. I took three young children who have art lessons with me and they enjoyed it very much. They were especially fascinated with the room with the watercolour techniques and materials. The exhibition rather ended on a low note with the last room, which apart from works by Turner and Doig, was a rather disappointing collection of watercolours. However otherwise excellent. My students now enthused can't wait to get their brushes and paints out.


Enjoyed the exhibition very much apart from the 'Modern' rooms. Is it truly possible to compare Emin and crew with the masters? If a plastic painted parachute, daubed twigs, a 'whoops I dropped the red paint' along with Tracy's Berlin squiggles 'to prove I can paint' are examples of the modern watercolour movement then swift may it die...

Great exhibition otherwise but let's get back to the real works of art and stop wasting time and space on the this 'modern' (read no talent) nonsense.


Unexpected choice of works,especially of the earlier periods,made this an interesting exhibition. Some later exhibits seemed chosen to be challenging rather than visually pleasing. The horrific war paintings did not fully capture the weary,dreary misery of bereavement and the whole wartime experience. To the question "could you do better?" than some of the provocative works in the final room, many contemporary amateur and professional water-colourists could surely answer honestly "Yes!"

John & Chris B

The exhibition was totally engrossing, and like other visitors, it was easy to lose plenty of time studying the different techniques employed. We understand that the Tate likes to exhibit varied ability examples but the likes of Tracey Emin and the piece of rubbish plastic still doesn't in our opinion come up to the standard of the other artists' work.

The other thing that would improve sales of the catalogue, meaning that we would have bought one, would be to have all the exhibited pictures and less writing.

It was lovely to see such talent in water colour when it is considered an inferior medium compared with oils

Barrie Brown

Enjoyed the the watercolour exhibition very much for the range of artists, styles, periods and media on show and its informative content and presentation. Will come back at least once more when the crowds have gone to look at the miniatures, botanical paintings, maps, war artists and personal favourites without being jostled to move on. In spite of this, I'm agree with comments here about the disappointing quality of the contemporary stuff, its disjointedness and its glaring omissions. An excellent exhibition, but room for improvement.