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


gordon sutton

Disappointed. Conservative in approach. Couldn't help drawing unfavourable comparisons with Picasso at Tate Liverpool (which was wonderful & offers a real benchmark). I'm passionate about watercolours but if I was new to them, this would switch me off. Such a pity. Gallery was crowded and hot. You've missed a big chance to take a fresh, vibrant & contemporary look at watercolours. You opted instead for a rather old-fashioned, fusty approach.

Jennifer Horne-...

A wonderful exhibition of British watercolours, which we greatly enjoyed. Many thanks to all at Tate Britain.

Jennifer and Keith Horne-Roberts.

joan doolan

I loved the watercolour exhibition. So much diversity. I particularly enjoyed looking at a 16th century watercolour map showing the tiny (yet strategically important!) town that I grew up in. To think that someone drew and coloured this map in the same way thay I might today was hugely pleasing to me and to see it in hanging with contemporay watercolours was fabulous. Well done Tate Britain.

Suze Cartwright

Superb exhibition, but rather an extended meaning of "watercolour" covering acrylics, gouaches, aquatints and mixed media.


I enjoyed the exhibiton and will probably go and see it again. I saw works I didn't know before and learned a lot from it but I'm not sure the project of following British watercolour over such a long period of time works entirely. There is something strained about the attempt to present it as a continuous development and, as others have said, it means some important artists are only scantily represented and some not at all. I also think this exhibition tends to play to the popular notion that there is nothing of importance in British painting except Turner. I think this is a pity.

I particularly enjoyed the contemporary works but PLEASE could something be done about the lighting in the last room? When I was there, Callum Innes's Cadmium Orange Deep/Delft Blue, for example, tended to be ignored by most visitors and this isn't likely to change as long as the spot lights reflect off the glass making it almost impossible to see the colour.

Paul Ashurst

Delightful exhibition. Lots of splendid stuff. Heartening to see from this blog how many people think that Emin's work is so dire. And agree with the general disappointment at the exclusion of Hockney. This is definitely a show to visit again and again.

Martin Everard

I think that it is a pity that some of the 20th century's botanical watercolour artists, like Barbara Everard, are not in the exhibition. Many of her works will be on display at the RHS London Orchid and Botanical Art Show (March 18th, 19th and 20th 2011) and fans of watercolour will be amazed at quality and finesse of her work if they do not already know of it. Quote EVBE or her name, Barbara Everard, if and when you book tickets on 0845 612 1253. Sorry for the plug - but the Tate has missed a trick, I feel.

Martin Everard

Apologies: I put the wrong email address with my commment.

Jayne Thomas

We visited on Sunday morning, which was as expected - quite peaceful. I've been to hundreds of exhibitions all over the place, but unfortunately this was, in my opinion not the showcase of Watercolours that it could have been. A complete let down, with the odd exception to marvel at. No memorable moments for me.


I thought it was a wonderful exhibition, due to the curators work. I was initially not that interested in attending, but rather took a friend along on my membership. I was very impressed, and have learnt a lot about the history, variety & possibility of watercolour. So will no longer consider it something of a lesser cousin to the oils. Reading the original intent of the exhibition I can confirm 'mission accomplished' on this particular enthusiast. thanks & well done.


The exhibition contained beauty, puzzles, information and revelation. It was a great mix. I was glad that as well as new wonders and loved old friends, there were a few paintings that I definitely did not like and some that I could not even guess what they might be about. Otherwise, I would have gone into "Wow" overload. I did reach the end but the great thing about being a Tate Member is that you can go to an exhibition and look at just one picture if that suits, without feeling that you have to see your moneysworth. Thank you

John Prior

The day we visited it was fairly quiet and not at all fussed. What I think we liked most was the grouping of paintings in classes which trancended the historical perspectives. The section on the techniques of watercolour was much appreciated. In particular I loved the section on maps and landscapes. The war section was shocking but very good. Turner came out of the whole exhibition memorably as did Cotman.

David M

An excellent demonstration of the range of the medium and its history. A narrower range could have focussed more on technique and perhaps the show tried to cover too much. In our small group a lively debate developed in the exhibition and continued long afterwards. We all felt that the last hall was the weakest, the more traditional straight medium works being the most popular/accessible. Some recent works in the same vein would have made the exhibition more complete.


We very much enjoyed the exhibition. The breadth of technique used -from exquisite detail to the broad brightwashes was great to see and I liked the complemetary section on technique and papers. I used the auditory commentary, which gave was surpising and interesting background information, altho the curators comments were rather too brief and obvious.

Rolf P

A wonderful exhibition. Beautiful paintings and very informative text. A real joy to visit. Well done!

Sally Parker

Our group of three artists thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, up until the final room. We enjoyed the balance of seeing the paintings, sketchbooks (amazing!), equipment and techniques. After such a positive and inspiring exhibition I regret to say the following but it did affect our enjoyment: Personally, I have just spent the whole month on a small piece of art work in my studio but feel cheated by seeing such terrible pieces of so called 'contemporary' work . So why has the privilege of being given wall space at the Tate been given to some twigs and a spoon? The circle(s) and Emin's stains do not even justify the money spent on the frames. This work is representing current watercolour work? There is no wonder why art is not being respected and funding issues. As the watercolour masters have demonstrated, current themes can be communicated but in association with technique and integrity - the plastic hanging just looked "pants".

Christine D

I very much enjoyed the exhibition. I thought that it showed the broad scope of the medium and I liked seeing the way that the technique developed. Some of the exhibits were lovely and others thought provoking such as those depicting war. I agree with other comments about the final room especially the plastic bag, spoon and twig which I did not think did justice to the rest of the exhibition.

Paul Joyner, Ab...

I spent two hours yesterday in the exhibition. A lovely show, nicely leaning towards partnership. The themes work and capture a good deal of the essence of the media- although I suppose you could have had another section on the amateur and Sunday painter- or at least making this a little clearer- of the Royals Prince Charles, to my mind, shows the greatest facility and was sorely missed. I liked the way you showed how contemporary the Cozens blot drawings are. Perhaps a magnifying glass could help with the miniatures- also I thought the case on watercolour boxes/techniques was spoilt because it was almost impossible to see the techniques demonstrated in the chosen watercolours, hung behind- which was a pity. I think hanging Girton and Turner together was brilliant, as was choosing a very late Girton Parisan scene. I would have liked to have seen a Gainsborough and Thomas Jones. The choice of the Van Dyck was poor- the BM has much better examples- but partnership is about compromise. The Welsh watercolours could have easily been greatly strenghtened by inclusion of Cornelius Varley and Cox was very under sold. Another practicality that occurred to me- but I suppose is difficult- would be to have seating and watercolours on some sort of cased stand so that the viewer could sit and study carefully- as if in a Cabinet. A well worthwhile show with an open atmosphere.

John Griffin

Like many of your respondees I thought the late 20th/21st Century exhibits were worthless - I invite you to just stand in the room concerned and watch, as I did for ten minutes, visitors there - the overwhelming majority hardly gave any of them a glance. The series of little stick nudes were amusing and would have been acceptable as slightly risque offerings in a card shop, nothing more. The sheet of polythene the vast majority I saw didn't realise was an exhibit - they probably thought you had a leak in the roof! People appreciate real craft anything else is a la Private Eye - pseud! There are some wonderful living watercolourists about but not many on show here! Having got that off my chest, the rest of the exhibition was wonderful.

Terry Setch

Lovely works, a treat to see but I found the hang irritating and the captions poor.

Tony Myerson

This was an exceptionally interesting exhibition with an excellent audio commentary. I particularly enjoyed the room on techniques and seeing Turner's own paints and palette was magical! I would have liked the painted beans picture to have been available as a postcard at least and preferably as a framed picture for sale.


I thought this exhibition was wonderful. I love art (total addict) but can't draw for toffee. So it was really great to visit an exhibition that explained its origins and so many of the techniques and terms. I felt really enlightened and educated afterwards.

I do agree that the last room was weak - what on earth was that plastic bag? And the teaspoon and stick, which looked like they'd been used to stir someone's paint? - but it was worth it to read the funny comments posted by others on the feedback postcards. (And I love the crazy modern stuff - this just wasn't it.)

I really hope this is one of a series on media. Oils and sculpture, please!

sue turner

Enjoyed the exhibition- good to see that water colour can be used both on its own and with other media. Plenty of diversity on show. The overall impression for me was the massive range in the interpretation of images, ideas and feelings- something for everyone. Loved Ruskin's dried oak leaf and many others.

Bridget Rosewell

There were some great paintings but somehow the whole thing did not really gell for me. I would have like to have seen some of Turner's and Girtin's bigger pieces in here too. However, the Burra's were an eyeopener and as always Ravilious inspiring - I must keep trying with this medium


It was good to see 'unusual' watercolour art, e.g. war art. However, I thought the curator should have kept to works where watercolour was the main medium. Simply becasue an artist used a bit of water colour amongst a host of other media does not, in my view, turn the work into a watercolour work or display particular watercolour artistry. The obvious example is the hanging plastic piece in the Abstraction and Improvisation area. The key point about that was the fabric used and how it was draped and suspended, not that it had a watercolour coating, amongst shampoo or whatever.


Un peu de français sur votre blog ! Jai beaucoup aimé l'exposition. L'aquarelle est un art partiqué depuis longtemps par les anglais, leurs aquarelles sont belles poétiques, l'expo avait aussi un petit côté plein d'humour que j'ai bien aimé. J'ai ensuite visité la Clore Gallery. Merci pour votre travail.


The bit that most surprised me:- the precision that is possible and seen in the early "botanical" watercolours They seemed to be to a more intense and detailed appreciation of nature than even a photo taken under a microscopic lense could achieve. (That is perhaps because each tiny element has to be captured and translated into paint)

Susan Reed

I am really looking forward to Sunday "Watercolour" at Tate Britain. My favourite medium is watercolour, my husband and I adore the works of Turner. Please look at http://blog.alanreed.com to see the similaralities.


It is surely a good work, I will be visiting today, Turner is my idol, and I ama die hard fan of his, My work shows a resemblence to his style. www.seemasgallery.com

txs. Have a nice day.

Barry Evans

A fascinating exhibition. I had no idea watercolour has been used for so many centuries. The diversity of subjects (not all to my taste) was frankly amazing. A "must see" for anyone with even the slightest interest in painting.

A moan - exhibit description panels are too small so viewers "crowd" the exhibit and no-one else can see them. They need to be bigger. This was a similar issue at the Gaugin exhibition.

Ian Gunner

A very good and well curated exhibition. Explaining a lot about the evolution and techniques of the medium. I had not realise that water colours could be so diverse. It was nice to see 'classic' paintings with more contempory pieces. All in all an excellent afternoon out, that I would highly recommend to anyone.

deirdre mcardle

oh blimey,now see what's been unleashed.But hey peace and love!

eva hodges

i was a bit disappointed. there were wonderful pictures there and worth going to see, but i found the structure of the exhibition puzzling. from all the ads i expected to see a development of the use of watercolour over the ages, and then suddenly i got themes instead.

Carol Rainsford

Great exhibition so many different styles and such great painting in many different periods of art. I would suggest everyone should see this from the early watercolours to the modern artists there is something for everybody. A great treat not just for those who love Turner but for all.

Richard Saxon

We found the idea of an exhibit based on the medium initially strange but very effective. The early work is riveting: the maps and views and the minatures. The war artists make superb use of the portability of the medium to deliver truth. Turner remains the outstanding modern artist, but I liked the Macintosh and Patrick Heron. Most of the current artists are however too shallow for words. I will probably come again for a longer look.

deirdre mcardle

unleashed ,not the show ,but the watercolour groups advertising here ; when many kids spraying on walls have more talent.It's funny about watercolour isn't it the way it seems to have more power the more delicately and dexterously it is used.

Victoria Wilkinson

I think it is very difficult to do an exhibition called "watercolour", i.e. what to include an what to leave out. Imagine an exhibition called "Oil Painting" ... I think the result was too muddled and seemed to include acrylics and other media as well. Why were there no contemporary well-known watercolourist such as Elizabeth Blackadder? The sketches by Tracey Emin were so vague as to be inconsequential and the leap from botanical illustration enormous. I did like the explanations of the techniques involved in watercolour but it was very crowded and difficult to spend time reading all the details. I would have enjoyed it more if the exhibition had been about exploring contemporary uses of water colour or any one of the section titles on their own. There were also very few good examples of the watercolours of 18 Century.

Wilfried Rimens...

Tate Britain is to be recommended for putting such an unfashionable subject as Watercolours back on the contemporary culture map. It is specifically great that a leading institution presents the genre in such an accessible way. The show offers a perfect genre entry for the novice without, overall, loosing on quality. Yes, watercolour connoisseurs will recognise the presence of weaknesses such as 18th Century representation or the failure to give current and future genre leaders further prominence, which would offer viewers a better idea of the things to come, proving that the art form is really alive and kicking. However, I will certainly go back again and have a further look.


A wide ranging exhibition. Loved the miniatures and botanical studies but disappointed by the modern section. The different techniques were a real eye-opener - was amazed that watercolour could be used in such a varied way. Inspired me to get out my watercolours! Need to pay another visit to absorb the whole thing.

David Jennings

This is a beautifully presented and magical exhibition. The curators have had the clever idea of presenting works within eight discrete topics, which, overall, allow one to see the power of the medium. All through the exhibition one is left in no doubt, that at the highest level, the demonstration of this power by the exponent has been dependent not only on their artistry but also on their technical skill in dealing with an often intractable medium. It was most exciting to see that most of the pictures exhibited were from the Tate's own collection, many of which I did not know. It was also gratifying to be reminded that present day artists such as Peter Doig, Ian McKeever and Callum Innes are carrying on the tradition of producing fine work in water colour.

eve milner

I love being a Tate member even though I know nothing about any kind of painting. Dropping into this huge exhibition for an hour or so on a quiet afternoon was bliss. The section showing the materials and techniques through the ages would've helped me immensely if it had been at the very start. However, I had no idea water colour had been used for so many centuries - the illuminated manuscripts and portrait miniatures were gorgeous. I was very moved by the story of the 24-year old botanical painter and his trials and tribulations on the Endeavour, ending in his death! And I loved Andy Goldsworthy and his idea of letting the paint tell its own story. As a non-artist I would've loved a 'try it yourself' corner, when I'm sure I would've realised how very difficult it is! As always, I appreciate the audioguide - a friend whispering in my ear :-)


I thoroughly enjoyed the watercolour exhibition, so much so that I went home and painted a picture of my recent trip to Las Vegas (the desert) in watercolous even though I usually use oils.

mick crews

Thank you very much for a wonderful show. I enjoyed evry aspect of it.

It's a friendly size; large enough to be comprhensive and small enough not to be overwhelming.

I had not connected watercolour and maps before even with a John Speed hanging on the wall.

I loved the chronological unfolding of style and technique.

Normally I would not spend much time viewing watercolour, this will change. Mick Crews

Danielle Teper

I do agree with your comment. As a water colorist I was particularly interested in 'Contemporary uses of Watercolour'. However I was most surprised to view acrylic, aquatint, gouache, tempora works being displayed,(for example Alexander Cozen : Aquatint; Patrick Heron (Gouache on paper etc...) The message became confused and somehow it belittles the watercolour medium, as if watercolour cannot be trusted to make a 'contemporary statement', be it figurative or abstract. I did like many works on display under the heading 'Abstraction and Improvisation' (which is not listed in the hand out). As a practitioner,I am interested in pushing this medium, by that I mean to produce series of very contemporary work. To take it away from the image it suffers from as being considered somehow second best (well after oil paintings). This show did not quite make it when it came to its use in contemporary practice.

Greg Gordon

There was so much more than I expected. For me the paintings by Burra are the highlights.

The exhibition has been very well designed and makes good use of the unique galleries at Tate Britain. Recommended!

Beverley & ...

We both enjoyed ourselves and spent longer than anticipated at the Tate. I like the thematic approach and was impressed by the range of works on view. I particularly liked the inclusion of the artefacts, the childrens watercolour set brought back many memories. I used the large print booklet for the first time, mainly to avoid standing in front of people in order to read the captions, which I think was useful. Like many others I thought the last room a little weak.

pauline hazelwood

I was very disappointed with the watercolour exhibition that I visited today. I was led to believe by the adverts that it would be very good retrospective look at watercolour painting through history and would also show great examples of contemporary watercolour painting, so much so that it would encourage interest in the medium and a re-evaluation of its scope. The early paintings were fine although I had seen far better Turner watercolours at your exhibition of his work a few years ago. The John Piper was a very sad example of an artist who is well known for his exuberant use of colour. The Edmund Dulac was also a poor example of his work and I wondered why after including one illustrator you didn't then include more in this genre such as Rackam, Ardizonne and recent more colourful illustrators. Worst of all though was that you completely ignored the rich diverse range of modern watercolourists and decided to focus on a few reactionary artists like Tracy Emin,. with their pathetic offerings, little known for their use of this medium and more for sensational pieces You only needed to look at the huge range exhibited by the watercolour societies and beyond. The watercolours at the recent Glasgow Boys exhibition at the RA were better than those shown at your exhibition. I did buy an annual membership before I went in thinking that I'd be returning with friends and family, I now regret this. I also teach watercolour painting and I'm always keen to recommend exhibitions to my students. I think the Mall and Bankside galleries show a good range of contemporary watercolour work. I think that you should have asked for more advice from a watercolour society or someone better informed about modern painters using this medium when creating this exhibition as it's a missed opportunity. I personally like the work of John Yardley, Hugh Buchanan and Alvaro Castagnet, Lesley Fronz amongst others.

Julia S

Many of the older paintings I found really wonderful, however I was most disappointed by the choice of modern works. I agree with GP Hyde's comments about transparency and luminosity - why could we not have seen some works by such great watercolourists as Wesson and Fletcher-Watson, or contemporary painters such as Trevor Chamberlain and David Curtis? I know gouache and acrylic are water-based, but they are not what I think of as watercolour. Overall, rather diappointing.

Gay Hedani

One can contemplate and analyse or critique a single watercolour on its own, appreciating the work of an artist or perhaps a movement, whether e.g. traditional or abstract. However, it is not until an exhibition like this -- for me anyway -- that one actually realises the extent of the capabilities of a medium and its flexibility. In a way, this was a retrospective of watercolour as opposed to an artist and that is how I set about experiencing the work, moving from room to room of differing bodies of work rather than examining each artist (there are some genres of watercolour where I appreciate the quality of the work but cannot spend a lot of time with them). Also, I did not have more than 1.5 hours as I had just spent nearly 4 hours in the Susan Hiller exhibition. There were the usual forms of watercolour expression -- I would call these traditional -- and I didn't spend a lot of time with these, excellent as many of the offerings were (I've experienced them many times before). I was surprised to find that some work that I often associate with printmaking were actually watercolours and some that I thought might be oils or acrylics were, again, watercolour (ok, gouache but I'm not a purist). Shows how much attention I often pay to the blurb on cards or remember from books. The modern interpretations were what grabbed me the most -- the Andy Goldsworthy was stunning. I was pleased to see Lucy Skaer whose use of positive/negative space is so exciting. It was a pleasure seeing the Sandra Blow in person rather than on a card. Loved the simplicity yet effectiveness of many of the contemporary offerings. I wish I had purchased the catalogue to remind myself of the artists and work. And unlike a previous commentator, I found the 3D plastic sculpture a worthy inclusion (I didn't read the title -- it was of the reclined lower half of a female body was it not?). That really broke with tradition for how watercolour can be used. Not being a painter, I appreciated the displays of materials, tools, and techniques. As always, I was amazed at how ahead of his time Turner was -- his work fits in anywhere, with landscapes, abstract. or modern/contemporary. Thank you for assembling and designing such an informative and eye opening exhibition.

Linda Taylor

An interesting and enjoyable exhibition. I liked the themed layout with just the right amount of information. I particularly enjoyed seeing examples of work by artists such as Burra and Kapoor amongst others, which through their sheer scale, powerful themes and use of experimental techniques showed that watercolour doesn't have to be regarded as some kind of poor relation to oil painting. However much of the contemporary work was a disappointment and compared poorly with earlier examples. Many of the artists shown in the last room seemed more concerned with the medium than the message, i.e. playing around with the paint (which is fine as a starting point) but without much engagement with any real meaning beyond the "playing." Abstract is fine but lack of depth isn't. In some cases there wasn't much concern with aesthetic considerations to any great extent either. Form, structure and genuine skill often seemed to be ignored or even scorned in favour of trivial gestures. Some of what was shown was just plain embarrassing. There are plenty of contemporary artists with a lot more to say and the skill to say it in a meaningful and engaging way.