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


John G Skinner

Yes, much to commend, but not all plus, some minus too. Introduction good, especially some of the fine botanical studies. V pleased to see Edward Burra given proper recognition, long overdue. A superb Van Dyck, two marvellous Girtins, and always Turner, of course, a small Blake next to a v fine small Palmer-some of the pluses. On the minus side, felt some of the selection was astray. Why wasn't Cotman better represented, by at least one of his sublime early works. Why no early David Jones from the late 20s. I could go on. Selection is so important. Also too inclusive, medium wise, stretching the title, almost to absurdity

Karin Prest

Sadly way to crowded for such an intimate subject.(bad luck had to go on rainy Saturday!)- thought the Sandra Blow and the Burras were good to see included. but otherwise dull and familiar stuff. Was very pleased to end up in the Susan Hiller installation which was uplifting and convinced me my Membership is worth prolonging.

Michael Till

The best watercolour in my opinion was Callow's offering= a true representation of this wonderful medium. I searched desperately for a re[roduction but alas there was none. As I said in a previous comment the exhibition lacked quality Cotmans and Turners.

gaby Langbridge

I loved this, especially the Pre-Raphaelites, it would have been nice to see some more early maps and possibly some watercolour illustrations as well. Well done TATE.

William Chouffot

I regularly bring my granddaughter to exhibitions and felt this exhibition provided a good insight into the many ways watercolour has been used and can be used. Just as interesting was the way certain pieces had visitors openly talking to one another about their feeling toward it. The idea that watercolour can be more than a water soluble coloured pigment and could extended to gouache, acrylic, emulsion, toothpaste, hair products even vaseline was thought provoking.

It would have been nice to have had a space for younger visitors (maybe the older ones too) to physically explore the medium and allow them to experience for themselves what the medium has to offer. Perhaps colour a plastic spoon and mount it on piece of wood to take home (I'm being serious). Or in the digital, interactive age; how about a camera connected to a computer that allowed your movements in front of it to be turned into a digital watercolour, which could be output as a poster to take away or added to an online gallery.

We both enjoyed the exhibition and came away with new insights.

john mather

My friend and I were very impressed by both the comprehensive scale and quality of the exhition. It certainly illustrated the scope and versatility of watercolour.


Good range of work. Will return at an earlier hour when I hope it will be less crowded.


Much to my surprise I really enjoyed this exhibition. I find watercolour a very frustrating medium to work in, so it was a wonder to discover so many different ways of working. I have been taught to combine watercolour with other media, so the diversity was inspiring rather than confusing. Best moment was discovering the John Piper, what joy that was. In contrast including Tracey Emin seemed tokenistic but I guess it drew a particular sector of your target audience? or the press?

Linda Watson

I spent a delightful hour and a half at Watercolour - as always early on Saturday morning which is a great time to view any exhibition if you want enough space to go at your own pace and see and read all you want. I found the exhibition very well put together and extremely interesting, unbelievably there were even a few favourite paintings that I hadn't twigged were watercolours! It made me very much more aware of why watercolour is chosen and how it can be used. I would have thought that it would be impossible to please everyone with an exhibition covering such a huge subject but I think TATE has done extremely well. The only point made by others I would pick up on is the selection of contemporary work, which I too found poor. Other than that however I'd give the exhibition ****. Well worth a visit.

Philip Murphy

I very much enjoyed the exhition for its variety and range. I have to say that I don't get the contemporary art which I assume to be top heavy with ideas which need to contextualise stuff such as the spoon - but I am prepared to accept that to be something I am missing. Nevertheless, the point has been well made that the most spacious room had the fewest works. Though some of those needed space to be viewed, some of them did not nor did they need to be viewed up close to appreciate brushwork and skill.

I am not at all knowledgable about art but to me it seemed disingenuous to include sketches and exercises by Turner alongside finished works, perhaps to make a tenuous thread between a great dead painter and contempory abstract artists.

Loved the the Burra, Ravilious, Nash, Girton & Mackintosh and set with artists such Turner and Burne-Jones gave a view of the possibilities of watercolours.

I suppose in an exhibition that ranges over hundreds of years there is always going to disappointment over what is "missing".

We were there yesterday(Sat at 10.00, having booked online) and found it uncrowded, though at the end I did just scoot round to look again at about six of the exhibits and it had filled up considerably by 12.00. Yhere is no real answer to crowds but getting there early with pre-booked tickets helped - and we had travelled from Manchester to be there at that time.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing will entirely please everyone but I bet it has pleased a lot more than it has disappointed. The vast majority of those who have not decided to post comments, probably.

O. Leech

We spent 6 hours travelling to see this exhibition. It was fascinating to see the evolution of watercolour - the techniques ,effects achieved and also the changing and varied functions of the paintings. It was an eye-opener to observe the versatility of the medium.The display of materials was interesting and the war room was very moving. We were not very impressed by some of the contemporary works chosen but all the earlier rooms were worthwhile and inspiring.Two of us particularly liked 'The Blue Night, Venice' by Melville but I don't want to begin a list of those paintings we lingered by or went back to see or I'll run out of room! We bought the 'Watercolour' book which is beautifully presented and informative and helps to remind us of what we saw - but is no substitute for being able to enjoy the full size works with their detail made available to us in the exhibition. It was crowded and warm, it is true, but this is a good sign of popularity. Everyone was patient and well mannered, taking their turn and allowing others to move in to observe detail or stand back and contemplate. Limiting numbers smacks of 'exclusivism'. We enjoyed the exhibition apart from the extremely disappointing final room and it was well-worth the long trip. We also took the opportunity to visit the other exhibitions in Tate Britain ,particularly the Blake exhibition and the The Romantics.


Really enjoyed this exhibition and will definitely be back another few times while it is still on. I loved the amazing variety of pictures, really good idea to group them by subject area - made for some very interesting juxtapositions. A deeply thought-provoking visit. Many thanks

Frances Davenport

I loved the exhibition, and found it very well researched and thoughtfully presented, especially the early work. A rich and interesting juxtaposition of pieces that enabled you to look at them with new eyes. I found the modern work satisfyingly provoking, but rather thin in content, Whilst I loved the work of Sandra Blow and Howard Hodgkin,I felt a bit ashamed of our current climate if the rest were the best we can do.

David Slack

A great history of water colour and great medium to work which has inspired me to explore watercolour in my own work. Myself and a friend thoroughly enjoyed it a breath of fresh air in these difficult times.

George Andy Maguire

I was rather dissapointed I'm afraid, I went with my (adult) daughter and whilst I enjoyed most things on show,I could see she was struggling to find much to hold her attention. I'm a big fan of Burra so was glad to see him well represented. I was interested to see some of the artist's materials. Like some of the other commenters here I was disappointed by the scarcity of more modern work and some of the work on show in this was unimpressive.

Giulia Zaniol

I've very much enjoyed the exhibition up to the room before last: thank you. However, I was expecting a grand end but instead Abstraction and Improvisation was very disappointing. You confirmed the mistaken common understanding that Watercolour is a medium of the past or secondary medium of today's art production. There was hardly anything in this room up to the standards of the past and what was there of good standards was made with other medium. Where is Marlene Dumas? Curtis? Elizabeth Blackadder? The best contemporary Watercolour artists were mostly missing. This was not good enough.

Marilyn Simler

I loved the show! The evolution of watercolour was so interesting to observe. As a painter myself of watercolour I felt that the show validates the medium for me totally!

Tom Doust

A little disappointed; I don't think that technique provides a strong enough thread in the way that subject or artist might.

Thats just me though and maybe something to do with comparing with some of the other exhibitions I've seen at Tate Britain over the last few years. I'm thinking particularly of "Turner, Whistler, Monet" and "American Sublime". Hard acts to follow!

Having said that, I still enjoyed it. Liked the Emin pieces and also the Burne-Jones 'Annunciation" which I don't think I've seen before.


It's good to see watercolour being taken seriously and I enjoyed the exhibition and will probably go back a few more times to focus on a few pieces. I think the layout was slightly confused, chronological or by subject I didn't quite get it but I though the addition of a room focussing on technique was a nice touch, if under exploited.

I felt a but cheated by the inclusion of acrylics in this exhibition, I know that the medium is water but I don't really think of them as watercolours.

To my mind this is a prime opportunity to help watercolour escape from the preconception of pale, washed out, overly delicate, dull compositions focussed on technique. I'd say that this was half way there, unfortunately I doubt we'll see another watercolour focussed exhibition for a number of years so I'm not sure when we'll get the whole way there at the Tate.

Caroline Hotchin

Visited on Saturday 27th February. Very crowded at times so my friend and I had to weave about a bit and get close when we could.I agree with many other correspondents that the title Watercolour seems at first sight a misnomer , but then where do you start and finish with any curated exhibition. Surely the point is to make it clear why the choices made, were made. And in some instances I was not sure, especially in the selection of contemporary pieces. But that could be as a result of my own lack of knowledge , understanding and appreciation of what the artist was trying to achieve. Perhaps I need to reflect on what I saw yesterday, read up the subject more, and even come back again to look at selected works to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the areas of the exhibition I personally found less accessible. But , in the main, enjoyed the experience.

keith chapman k...

It was quite wonderful,it was like meeting many old friends again, and some new ones made. Watercolour? why was that a difficult title for some people? Water soluble medium surely and small scale mostly. Not big block buster gallery art.Intimate pictures I could image hanging on my modest domestic walls.Turner's Blue Riga outstanding.I notice a passing resemblance to A wreck by Turner to one of Emin's Berlin series,so she not as witless as other comments suggest. I did not like all of the paintings but did not expect to. The choice of work on show was interesting because it did not just feature the obvious,the Piper for instance.I could not get to see every thing in one visit so will return again.I enjoyed the exhibition immensely.

Jackie Tisdall

I had a marvellous time walking through each of the rooms at the exhibition. As always, the audio was well worth having and explained clearly a lot of detail that one might otherwise miss. Beautifully arranged pieces in each room and the whole exhibition flowed through. I especially loved seeing Turner's work which never fails to amaze. Quite difficult to peer over the number of people wanting to read about the 'techniques' of watercolour but showed how interested we all are in the subject. I will have to make another visit earlier in the day as I suspect I chose a busy time. (Friday, late morning!)

David Brown

Enjoyed my visit, but found the breadth of art somewhat overwhelming. I really liked some of the sections - the first section with the maps and then the section with the war pictures was amazing, loved the Pre-Raphaelites. And the cases showing the tools of the trade were fascinating.

Two suggestions:

(a) clearly scope to focus on certain aspects of Watercolours for future exhibitions - I'd certainly love to see a larger collection of the early watercolours, or the war paintings.

(b) like all the art exhibitions I go to, want I would really like is to see thumbnails of all the exhibits at home - so I could tell people about particularly pictures I enjoyed seeing, and perhaps do more research on them.

Tom Poole

An excellent exhibition which showed both the range and limitations of watercolour painting.The curious flatness of the medium beautifully highlights the superb detail in the high key paintings of the natural world but cannot acheive the depth and texture of oils when applied to an emmotive subject.

nicola fitchett

I really loved this exhibition. A nice size and a fascinating and diverse collection of work. Some of which I liked, and some I didn't, but that is fine. I liked the way it was grouped by type and not chronologically, which made it feel fresh and full of variety. I particularly the work by Edward Burra, and Samuel Palmer, but also some of amazing map drawings and diagrams from the 13th century were totally surprising with their bold colours. I liked it so much, I'm coming again and bringing my mum!


On the whole, I really enjoyed it. The thematic organisation helped me better understand what made watercolour distinct from other mediums. And despite the themes, I still left with a sense of how watercolour developed over time as well. Some highlights for me: Turner's Blue Rigi and his colour beginnings, Hawksley's The Nativity and Pedder-Smith's Bean Painting. Especially compared to the amazing technique demonstrated in this last one, I was really disappointed with David Austen's naked little stick-like figures (who were only naked because he thinks 'drawing clothes is hard'). I felt like I was being tricked into thinking that they were good works of art, and that they deserved being hung on the wall next to the others. But I suppose he was good for a chuckle.


WATERCOLOUR est une expo très didactique,le choix des oeuvres est très judicieux,c'est un régal. Quant aux oeuvres de la collection permanente,elles valent le voyage à elles seules. Alors c'est BRAVO pour tout et surtout pour la gratuité des salles;même le génial JACK LANG n'y avait pas songé...en FRANCE, les musées sont gratuits uniquement le 1er dimanche de chaque mois !!!donc MERCI pour toutes ces merveilles.

Phillip Arnold

My wife and I enjoyed this exhibition. Water colour is such a popular medium that the sheer number of water colours in existence makes the exhibition content very selective - only one Eric Ravilious but a fair number of Turner's brush marks. I don't know how you could do it but a few semi amateur gems would have been welcome. I love local water colours. How do you show local pictures to the wider public? A very worth while exhibition of a popular medium. A little pricey if you're not old like us or the member of the Art Fund.


I loved the breadth of the exhibition - went with a friend and it took us all day to see it all ( with a break for lovely lunch in the restaurent). I would lvoe to have Vivace on my wall, i'd feel joyous everytime i saw it. Getting so close to Turner's paint box was a special mment. I'm hoping to come again.

Anthony Hughes

My wife and I both enjoyed the exhibition. My wife especially liked the 'technical' section which allowed her to appreciate some of the difficulties and potentialities of the medium. As the show contained so many striking paintings, it seems ungrateful to complain that the chronological coverage was so great that the whole felt less coherent than it might have done. That may also be due to the fact that the premiss of 'Britishness' is itself a little unfocused and would have been understood (if at all) variously at different times between the fifteenth century and the present day. And why were two Burgundian mss on show at all? That doesn't mean they weren't worth seeing, but they only emphasised the fact that watercolour painting is not exclusive to the British (in the comparatively recent past, Cézanne and Klee come to mind as outstanding practitioners). However, I loved the range of the curators' choices (maps, botanical, medical and zoological illustration,landscape, 'history painting' and so on) and there were so many items that were unfamiliar - not all of them likeable, but always stimulating - that complaint seems irrelevant. I'll certainly be going back.

Claire Malan

Apart from the fact that the exhibition was heaving with people, I really enjoyed it. I'd take home Edward Burra's landscape and Turner's Rigi. The last two rooms were very dull and quite quick to view, which is probably proportional to the time it took the artists to complete the works!

Don Oldham

John Sell Cotman was a real revelation and good to see a Peter Lanyon (a much neglected painter I think). Overall a splendid exhibition, so much to enjoy both familiar and new discoveries. Thanks to all concerned.

Adrian Dunn

Very impressed by the show. Especialy pleased to see the Burra's on display with the Pipers And Nashes (You can guess which particular era I favour). However, all of it was well worth the visit. You just can't appreciate the colours and scale of these images from Art History publications. One note to the curators though. I did notice a lady in a wheelchair found it impossible to view the illuminated pages of the open bibles in the first room. Apart from that, brilliant!! I will be re-visiting soon.

Paul Proton

Any chance of a 'Watercolours' show at Tate Britain which mainly showed ... er ... British watercolours? You know, the real masters (Cotman, Girtin, Turner et al) in large numbers. The deathly hand of modern curation is killing gallery-going as a simple PLEASURE. Just show us the really good stuff and let us enjoy it. In case you think this is a grumpy old man, I really enjoyed Orozco at Tate mod recently. So there.

Ian Martin

I enjoyed the exhibition. I found it well balanced in terms of educational content, and pleasing images. I learnt a lot that I did not know (but then I'm not from an artistic background). I thought the exhibition was well laid out and the story flowed well. It certainly inspired me to dig out my old water colours and have another go! Having read the mixed comments below, all I can say is I sympathise with the dilemma you must fequently face in pitching exhibitions, but for me in artistic terms "a man on the Clapham Omnibus", it was perfectly pitched.

Beryl Pratley

Visited "Watercolour" yesterday. It's a pretty comprehensive and informative show, with a surprisingly large time-span and some good "how to" bits. New respect for the early painters making their own colours. Today's Sunday painters have it easy. I suppose you had to have all the pre-Raphaelites, but the more modern works exploring the medium are far more interesting. Tracey Emin does a good Turner imitation with her sketches - shows how far roads that start in the same place can diverge. Despite the pretentious justification, Hayley Tompkins is just taking the mickey. Shame there wasn't one of Hockney's explorations of watercolour. Just off to my weekly painting group with loads of new information.

Helen Waite

Incredibly diverse exhibition, hung thematically rather than chronologically with the Turners, especially Blue Rigi,outshining everything else. The Natural World with the Macaque monkey watercolour was brilliant, as was Topography and War,but there were huge hideous heavy Pre-Raphs. Why weren't any of Hockney's watercolours there, or more Cotmans and Ruskins? The last room was really grim. Amorphous blobs, plastic with texture dripped onto it, what was it meant to indicate except that contemporary art has lost touch with the translucency which is watercolour? If the organisers hoped to make us think of watercolour as being "cool" they only succeeded in making today's practitioners look like rank amateurs. I am looking forward to the London Society of Watercolourists' exhibition coming soon to getr my inspiration.

amanda Ralfe

I was underwhelmed by the exhibition.The early British watercolour started the show well in particular the wonderful Van Dyke,There was not enough Turner for me and felt a lot of work in the contemporary use of watercolour was thin in the extreme,where was David Hockney?

Geoff Riding

It worked for me! Difficult to tackle such a vast subject, but it left me wanting to return and look again. The setting was a little curious, but still had an intimacy. Particularly enjoyed the Andy Galsworthy..didn't know he had done anything on paper! (I am no expert!!) and Hodgkins always inspires, but maybe the Rennie Mackintosh was my "moment"! Go and explore for yourself!


The early Turner's are not good quality, and was disappointed that several of the works were not watercolour but mixed media. An exhibition which would have benefitted perhaps from being less ambitious. Otherwise great to see this medium receive prominence.

Nigel Jackson

Really enjoyed the exhibition and will revisit a few more times to spend more time looking at the more "traditional" work. Personally I did not enjoy the Inner Vision and Abstraction and Improvisation rooms as much as the rest of the exhibition which was excellent.


Thank you for the info on the Mount Street Gallery website

David Houghton

My wife and I came to see this show with a heavy heart, for the increasing costs of travel mean that we have had to give up our Tate Membership, only being able to see one or two shows a year now. We left, however, with our hearts lightened, having very much enjoyed the exhibition. Yes, of course we could criticise, but I have been known to criticise even shows I have curated! Of course everything was not to my taste, nor to my wife's very different taste, but there was more than enough that was.

Importantly, it showed the vast potential of the medium and we found pleasant surprises in virtually every room.This surely must be the aim of a national exhibition such as this to make us look again, shake up our preconceptions and most of all enjoy the works for what they are.

PS My own major surprise was that little Turner "Scarlet sunset", despite a lifelong interest in Turner it had previously escaped my attention, but one look at it and I knew it! Surely this was a sketch for Monet's "Impression sunrise" right down to the squiggle of yellow for the suns reflection in the water. The dates seem right, as Monet was in London in 1870 and met Turner and Impression is dated as 1872. Does anyone know any more? Maybe Impressionism started here in the UK, any comment?

Deborah Pugh

Having visited the exhibition of watercolours yesterday I am really fired up to try some more ideas. The use of vellum, adding gouache or ink and preparing my own watercolour pigments. Old and new inspired me. I'm off to try some experimentation. Perhaps attacking the paper with a scalpel like Turner or adding Earth like Anish Kapoor. Maybe painting lots of the same things like the bean painting by Rachel Pedder-Smith with her beautiful pattern. So many ideas!

Chris Thorne

This exhibition is a must for anybody interested in Watercolour Painting. I had no idea that it had been accepted as a 'serious' medium for more than 500 years. The curators of the exhibition are to be congratulated on the presentation of the works - including sharing with us the development of watercolour boxes from Turner to modern times (including one 1950's tin that I remember as a child!). I already paint in the medium, but it would have 'sold' the technique to me.


I really enjoyed the exhibition, even more than I expected as I had read some mixed reviews. Obviously as others have commented there were omissions but overall I liked the range of paintings and the way that the rooms were themed. The main disappointment was the final room; surely there are better examples of current artists' work? Comparing most of them with the likes of John Piper and Eric Ravilious revealed a severe lack of talent. Again the labelling was far too small, like at the Gauguin. When are curators going to provide labels one can read without going up to the wall blocking others view?

Annette Fischer

I greatly enjoyed the water colour exhibition - amazing!

Grahame Solway

My partner and I visited the exhibition yesterday morning and enjoyed it enormously (even more so when compared with the exhibition of modern British Sculpture at the RA yesterday evening!). I was particularly impressed by the fineness of technique evident in so many of the exhibits.

But where were David Roberts and his son? - there were, apparently, no examples of the work of one of the best-known and most collected of British watercolourists.

Tom Evans

A very interesting show - some parts enjoyable, others infuriating, but stimulating. I like the current curatorial fashion for explaining the how the tools and techniques relate to images and effects. Highlights for me included the miniaturists, Jacques le Moyne's 'Ficus' and the use of watercolour for botanical and medical illustration, which went beyond record keeping. The pictures of wounds are hard to look at, but make many other things - particularly the recent pictures in the 'inner visions' section - look feeble and self indulgent.

Burra and Ravilious stand up better than I expected, the Frances Towne 'Source of the Arveyron' was new to me - and Turner stands in a class apart from any other artist in the show - whether for the 'colour beginnings' or the 'Blue Rigi', which manages to be both the most daring work in the show and flawless.

The inclusion of so many recent acrylic and mixed media works was one of the irritations, though. If acrylic is 'relevant' so logically is distemper (Vuillard perhaps?), or tempera (Piero della Francesca?) or fresco? No, it becomes absurd...

sydney klugman

I was not sure whether to go and am really glad to have had such an amazing experience. Enjoyed seeing o"ld friends" artists that I have seen over the years. The variety and variations was interesting. My feelings were greatly stirred by Edward Burra and the impressiveness of such large watercolours. I find in any exhibition if I find one painting then I feel I have arrived. Here thwere were five or six paintings that I could hardly bear to leave nad will have to return to see what I have missed as each visit depends on mood and time and my thoughts at the time.