Our exhibition Watercolour is now open at Tate Britain.

Visitor looking at Sandra Blow 'Vivace' 1988
Sandra Blow Vivace 1988: what do you think?

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).

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

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


Chris Howard

So glad I managed to come, although at the eleventh hour! It was busy, so ofen had to queue up to see a painting, but definitely worth it. I learned so much about the wide uses of the medium and its development though the centuries. 'Blue Riga' stood out, but I also loved the Burra landscape and the finely wrought detail of the harem interior. Thank you!


Just managed to catch the exhibition before it closed and so glad I did (unlike my friend whose preconceptions got in the way). It was a stimulating and sociable experience - no jostling crowds, plenty of space to take in the works and other visitors keen on discussion. My only gripe - I missed one of the rooms! A numbering system would have helped. As for the above comments about gouache (or 'body colour') and acrylics, that these too are waterbased media probably needed explaining (but so too are inks, which were not represented.) Difficult to know where to stop but a future exhibition might take up where this one thinned out towards the end (I agree with Caroline's and Anita's comments). Thank you for freeing 'watercolour' from its derivative amateur image. PS. Postcards - always a disappointment. Who chooses them? How about some way of responding to early visitors' preferences?


So nice to see such a range of interesting pictures, and surprised to see the age of the early watercolours. The intricate minute detail, in, for example the Richard Dadd paintings, made me wonder how to work at such intensity must have affected his life. And, it was all very enjoyable and impressive. Some of the contributions in the final room were, however, an anticlimax. I was shocked but amused to note how I, and others I observed, paid them scant attention. As most of the exhibits were hugely engaging and complex, the simplicity and dullnes of some of the last pieces was a surprise - akin to a slap in the face with a wet haddock.

Ronny Day

I loved the Matthew Paris map of Great Britain (13th century) and the lovely 17th century map of farmland. I was disappointed that neither of these were available on postcards or prints as I would have bought them. The White house at Chelsea is an old favourite,as are the Turner landscapes - his use of colour is amazing.


A wonderfully diverse exhibition. I particularly like the way the Tate contextualises art and always find those aspects add something to my experience / understanding, along with sketches etc and how pieces develop. This time you also gave details of the medium. Just great!

Danny Whinder

I learned a great deal from the exhibition. The information was well presented and the whole experience ejoyable. One suggestion for this and other exhibitions both here and at the 'Modern', a recommended direction round the rooms would perhaps reduce the crossing over of visitors going in opposite directions.

annette fry

one more thing, it was an intimate exhibition that supported discussion with strangers, I spoke to so many people during it, including children, it was warm, inviting and full of community

annette fry

it reminded me again (the second visit) of the multitude of ways you might go with a medium, from the subtle, detailed and miniature, to the large and gestural, I loved the whole xhibition. I had no idea what to expect, but it was wonderful to see a show about a traditional medium, used in such a variety of ways, so very powerfully.


I have been to the show a few times, there are so many wonderfully detailed works the show repays the effort! The catalogue is really well written and worthwhile especially Alison Smith's intro which has great understanding and ability to 'explain' the medium and its value and properties. Its true what she says that Watercolour is easy for amateurs to begin with but hard to master, I've tried. I was hoping to see the work of Emil Nolde, and some others, including Barbara Rae and Elizabeth Blackadder - who may be successful artists in the medium, but why aren't they included? Which is not to say the show is lacking in what it tries to bring to our attention but there is some luscious work NOT in the show and I thought it duller for that.

Elaine Taylor

I managed to get to the gallery the other afternoon, determined not to miss this show before it finishes. I was surprised by the small attendance that afternoon but pleased, in that it allowed me a clear view without a lot of polite jostling!

Thoroughly enjoyed it and was quite surprised by the range of styles. I haven't before appreciated how much is possible with watercolour. I was amazed at times. Took the book home with me but I'll try to visit again before the finish if I possibly can.

Very worthwhile. Thank you Tate Britain!


Return visit and pleasantly surprised that it was not overcrowded. Looked again at the work which I found intriguing in execution and detail. The draughtsmanship in Turners sketchbook and the modernity of his painting reaffirms the assertion of drawing as key to this medium and to my mind the distinction of an artist whatever medium they choose. Todays performers seem to find these skills irrelevant. Burra paved a way for Banksy. The pallette of 18th century tonal colour struck me as distinctive a style of the era. War images were disturbing not beautiful but a recording technique showing the portability of watercolour and immediacy. The construct and detail in botanical and portrait miniatures is daunting. Glad to have taken it all in again lots to think about. Jigsaws composition and confidence. Catalogue worth a dip. This show guided gently through this available and flexible medium. Freed up my limits thinking about it. Will keep trying.


An interesting exhibition - I hadn't thought of illuminated manuscripts as watercolours, so that's one thing I've learned. Glad to see that it was more than Turner and the usual favourites, but I've always loved Blake. Edward Burra was certainly "in your face" and disturbing. Interested to see two by David Jones, who I've thought of more as a poet (he's buried along with his parents in Ladywell Cemetery, near where I live); I see that they are in the Tate's collection, so I hope to spend more time deciphering them for myself. Pity there were only some "smudges" by Tracy Emin. I thought "what's the point?" then I saw her exhibition at the Hayward the next day and was more impressed than I ever thought I would be.


In all honesty I was very disappointed in the exhibition. After hearing about how it will alter my experience of "watercolour" as a medium I was left wanting so much more. there were some excellent pictures and I was interested to see earlier works that did not, in fact, appear as watercolour and although it was good to see that I did not feel the quality of the art justified such a large and expensive exhibition. however, this does not stop me from continuing to see exhibitions. some you like, some you don't. all the better to be challenged I suppose

Jean Bardsley

Great show, really displaying the versatility of the medium. Glad you included Peter Doig and the sensitive figures of David Austen and Tracey Emin which contrasted amazingly with the Sandra Blow. Just wondered about the Karla Black and Haley Tompkins, but I think I see where you're coming from. Mustn't forget the Blue Rigi, the Burra landscape and the beautiful botanicals. Thank you!

brooke fitzsimons

Dear Alison, this was a really good show. Great to see what contemporary artists - Andy Goldsworthy, Peter Doig - can do with watercolour. Very interesting to see how this paint, with various techniques, can create such a wide range of work. The exhibition certainly revived watercolour for me. The earlier works (the miniatures and maps and the Almain Armourer's Album image for example) were incredibly well preserved. So vibrant and beautiful. Thank you! B>F

Sarah Carter

I found Watercolour fascinating, and much appreciated the audio guide. I also equipped myself with an excellent article by Laura Cumming from the Guardian Review. I want to go to it again as I am reading Alexandra Harris's Romantic Moderns which touches many of the represented artists. Highlights: the Edward Burra, Patrick Heron, Francis Towne...and many others.


This was my second visit and the exhibition was no less inspiring. The war paintings are very powerful. I found Anish Kapoor's painting very inspiring and the displays of the history of materials were very interesting.


I loved this show - very inspiring and great to have such a variety in scale of works - that Edward Burra was a mad old cove wasn't he? fascinating. Very moving to include the works by war artists as well. As ever though - a book of 16 postcards is produced, not one single one of them a work by a female artist. Big fat zero for that - would love to know the excuse for it.


On entering the exhibition, the first thing i noticed was that 90% of the visitors were over 50, this explains all the complaints above about the contemporary works. The exhibition was indeed informative with a few really beautiful works, but I would have like to have seen more 20th c. works and, I know it is the Tate Britain, but I really missed having a chance to compare works from Europe such as Klee, Macke, or Delaunay.


I visited yesterday when there were few crowds and so it was a pleasure to spend time looking at the diverse paintings on show. I was amazed by the vibrancy of colour of earlier works on vellum and delighted by the diversity of exhibits. The exhibits of watercolour palettes and styles was fascinating as were Turner's sketches and I enjoyed the playfulness of the improvisation room showing how artists have experimented with the medium. A very enjoyable show.

São Pinto da Costa


My perception about this technique was very limited, resumed to the traditional landscape and housewife hobby, at this exhibition I a all different aspect of the use van watercolors.

Richard Kirby

I liked the Turners, especially the minimalist Two Boats at Sea, practically an abstraction. Also, Richard Bonington. But I learned nothing about 'gouache', even though it made up a part or whole of many paintings. Presumably it's some sort of version of watercolour, but what? I went to this exhibition several times, but found myself looking out for the same paintings. The Blue Rigi at Sunrise was wonderful to see again.


Loved the watercolour exhibition ...and the Tate building itself, superb.

Combination of paintings with locations around the world was especially interesting to me.

Will visit again to see other exhibits and rest of building.

(Please can we have affordable food and drinks in the cafe for those of us who are not millionaires, thankyou! £1 off every item should do it) (...especially in the members' room which needs relocating to a nice place!!!)

Neal Bamford

I have always loved watercolour art and this exhibition has some stunning pieces in it, from still life to landscape. There is every facet of style here showing how versatile this medium is.

Edmund West

I thought it an excellent exhibition. I loved the early miniatures. The audio guide was excellent; as always I wanted more. As a non-artist I was amazed at the large paintings (e.g the Burne-Jones), when one thinks of watercolour as an intimate medium. The botanicals were interesting, but I had seen and marvelled at this sort of work at an exhibition of Botanical work at (I think) the Bodleain a few years ago. The small amount on techniques and materials was very interesting and would have been good to expand. The Turner "Two Boats" was astonishing- so much suggested by so little! A comparison with Chinese brush painting, also water based, and very economical, would be fascinating.

Linda Winnett

I really enjoyed the variety of different formats that Watercolour appears in. I love the medium of watercolour. It can be so subtle,as seen in Tracey Emin's minamilistic pieces or bold and spontaneous as in Sandra Blow's energetic and vibrant piece.I am from the Midlands and the first piece I cast my eyes on,it was like seeing an old friend, with the watercolour of Van Dyck's trees and ships, on loan from the Barber Institute,Birmingham University; a wonderful gem of a gallery. The maps with the amazing hand of Wenseclaus Hollar were a revelation.Good to see David Cox represented and Walter Langley. I don't know the work of William Callow, and that was a beautiful piece.

There were many more that I liked, but suffice to say I appreciated the curation of the exhibition, which was really well done.

It was also a quiet and contemplative experience. Thank you.

Malcolm Griffin

We enjoyed the exhibition greatly - except for the final room. Couldn't always understand the choice of themes, ie why "war" and not (for instance) "transport". Would have thought that there was a lot more twentieth century stuff available (book illustrations?). Despite these points the exhibition was really rather good. But - the underground cafe... Food is fine but TLC urgently needed, eg replace the neon lights that don't work; repair the split stool tops; re-paint the chipped and worn woodwork. We travel a long way to get to Tate Britain and would value a better maintained cafe.

Ilse Ryder

This was my 3rd visit and really rewarding: a beautiful exhibition, well annotated. Assembling my impressions of paintings by one artist placed in different rooms (Paul Nash, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, for example) would have been eased by having an alphabetical list to hand. Otherwise extremely well curated.

Dr Jooanna Bisdee

Went to the Watercolour exhibition yesterday and really enjoyed it - amazing range of style all within the same medium - pleased I managed to get in before it ends on 21st! Joanna


A far better exhibition than I'd expected. Fascinating - it made me think again of this wonderful medium. I only hope I have time to go back.

The only downer of my visit was having to stand to drink coffee in the pokey Member's Room. (Soon to be replaced, I believe . . . and hope.)

Phil Tapper

I spent 30 minutes browsing the show last night. It was lovely and quiet. The show is good - I like watercolours and this was an interesting show. I like to see Samuel Palmer's work and there were two on show plus some pre-Raphaelite's works.

Anne Guy

Another brilliant exhibition. The approach was all-embracing and the section on the medium and it associated artefacts was fascinating. I am prompted to dust off my own watercolouring materials once more. We loved it!!


Yesterday's visit to the Watercolour exhibition was very enjoyable. It covered the subject well and awakened in me a fresh interest in watercolour. Many things to savour and enjoy, and a few more challenging. Exactly what an exhibition should be about. Well done Tate.

Jim E

My wife and I found this a very interesting and informative exhibition. We were quite amazed that in some cases one would never have guessed the age of some of the pieces as their colours were so fresh and vivid. The varied nature of the works reflects the huge effort which must have been required in order to assemble this diverse collection of paintings.

Felicity Brown

I thoroughly enjoyed the Watercolours. The pictures were superbly presented and the catalogue is excellent. It was good that it was offered at a special price and it will ensure I don't forget everything I learned, as well as enjoyed, at the exhibition! We've just come back from London and I can't wait to relive the experience! I'm not really a modern art fan so the older stuff was definitely more to my taste. The early very impressive botanical pictures were simply beautiful.

However, I'm very much looking forward to Magritte at Tate Liverpool (where we live).

(Not sure I'll brave the Miro.......)

Oh....Tate Britain is such a great gallery to visit; so civilised!

Thank you!

Stephen J. Hannaway

Really enjoyed both exhibitions, I've been waiting a long time to see an exhibition on Vorticism and this was a good one and to see an equally good one on Watercolour at the same time was fantastic.It was worth it, if only to see Turners 'Blue Rigi' but to have Edward Burra as well was just great. I took a guest and we had a great day out, so all we're waiting for now is an Edward Burra exhibition, make it soon please.

John Purkis

There have been slightly off-putting reviews but I got there last Saturday at 10 am and was very cheered by the numbers coming in as early as that. Every room was full of surprises, and I had not realised that the medieval MSS and the miniaturists used watercolour. I liked the display of materials, and their influence. Top marks to Ruskin as always. A very thorough exhibition indeed. On the way out I went to see the "re-hanging?" of the Romantic artists with Turner, which was very stimulating indeed. Very glad to see the new Blakes there. On another subject Lucian Freud went to the Benton End art school, as did Maggie Hambling. Could we have a show devoted to Sir Cedric Morris and his pupils? Will leave the Vorticists till later

Cameron Scott

I came upon the watercolour exhibition by chance as I had come to see the Vorticists. The Vorticisits I didn't take much from but the watercolours were a delight - fresh, spontaneous, and so wide ranging. Its a medium I have in the past found rather predicticable (my problem not the artists) So I am really glad I saw this exhibition as it has sparked thoughts and possibilities in my head for my own work. Thanks


I really enjoyed this exhibition. It had a lot of variety and was very informative. Each room was very distinct from another room and looked at the theme from a different viewpoint. It looked at techniques and experiments with the medium as well as different themes and uses for watercolour. Would love to go again and discover something new. Not too crowded either!

Philip Butler

Went to the Watercolour exhibition yesterday and thought it was a wonderful show; brilliantly curated, and some jaw-dropping paintings. Fantastic stuff. (Perhaps a little big and I was exhausted by the end but a good excuse to go back for another look!) Also, is there a downloadable app?

becky Henderson

Small number of rooms meant a friend and I could go in our lunch break. Some lovely paintings and liked the themes but not sure I would recommend to non-members as good value. Would have liked more Turner - and particuarly his "sunset" given more prominnce. Last room disappointing. Palets interesting for some but not for me. Little booklet lovely but perhaps could be sent to members before to "tempt" them and for them to read before seeing the exhibition.

patanne coombs

I very much enjoyed this exhibition: it was informative and gave me a great deal of pleasure. I would certainly recommend a visit.

John Field

Great exhibition - the earlier stuff was a revalation - but am I alone in thinking that the later more modern pieces lacked any for or artistic merit - some had wit but little else. The Emin three were not worth hanging to my mind - I felt so good in most of the exhibition and then became quite depressed in the last room !

Lisa Highton

A friend and I had been looking forward to seeing this and came with, what I now realise to be, a lot of pre-conceptions. We were amazed at how long the medium has been in existence, the freshness of the art and how modern it looked. Very well curated and displayed. Loved the fact that it wasn't chronological too. A definite highpoint. So glad we caught it before it closes.


Went yesterday and was surprised at how few people there were in attendance. This made looking at the works so much easier. I liked the way it was laid out - tracing the history of it's use and in particular found the technical info on the development of the paints, papers etc very interesting. I also liked seeing artists sketchbooks on display. Pleased that the Tate has started providing the small guides again as I keep them and often refer back to them.

andrew zilouf

so cool that you guys send us an email asking about our thoughts. Favourites were Edward Burra and Sophie von Hellenstein. I appreciate what you guys do but would like to see a slightly less chronological method to your curation.


I thought the room that explained watercolour techniques the most interesting. The rest of the rooms had some interesting and new works, but I sorely missed some commentary next to each painting. I don't think we should be expected to buy a guidebook or listen to audio (highly selective anyway) in order to understand the context of paintings and why they were selected--that is, why they are distinctive in some way. I didn't know much about watercolour, and apart from what I learned in one room, I'm not sure I know any more after the exhibit.


Comprehensive exhibition. Just as I was asking myself about the techniques involved there was a fabulous room detailing the evolution of technique. My only thought was that this could have been very effectively complimented with some simple videos showing live demonstrations. A must do exhibition for the summer.


The watercolour exhibition was very enjoyable and fascinating. To me this was an introductory exhibition to watercolour and as such I ws not expecting to enjoy all the exhibits but the old and the new particularly appealed with both the Renaissance and the contemporary rooms capturing my interest. Look forward to the new members room!!

Jackie Poulouktsi

I found MOST of the exhibition very well organised, easily accessible and fascinating. There is a great variety of paintings in different styles and the organisation was such so you could appreciate the development of the medium through history.

HOWEVER, I was very disappointed with many of the 'paintings' in the last section of modern art and I agree with one blogger's comment that it is a case of 'the emperor's new clothes. We all know that there are numerous wonderful modern watercolour paintings out there which show how versatile the medium is, so why were there none at this exhibition? The plastic sheet which had been hung up and splashed with paint expressed nothing than precisely that - a plastic sheet splashed with paint. We get the same thing every time we decorate! I agree with Sue Willmer when she says she left the exhibition feeling dispirited rather than inspired.

I thought the ticket price acceptable and the recorded guide very interesting and informative. It would be nice if it could be included in the ticket price.

I would like to have been able to buy some prints of some of the paintings, including the painting of beans which unfortunately is available only as a tea towel (?!). The shop products do seem to be rather commercialised. I would like to have seen a bigger selection of post cards and prints to buy and fewer expensive items such as jewellery and even clothes items. I ended up buying nothing. I'd give the Watercolour exhibition 8/10. (The shop 4/10!)