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 Lawrence

A terrific and informative show. Burra's large scale surrealist water-colours- wow! So original,inventive and powerful. His star is in the ascendant.

John Lawrence

Anne Courtney

I enjoyed the exhibition very much. The variety of work was very good and the presentation well done. On a personal note I would like to have seen more Turners and I felt that perhaps John Piper could have had more exhibits, and some of the twentieth century artists more space as well. There was after all some wall space left over.

daniel harwood

Really enjoyed the exhibition- good to have a glimpse into genres outside the art mainstream - cartography and natural history illustration which show a British mixture of attention to scientific detail combined with an aesthetic sensibility. I loved some of the later abstract works especially Bethan Huws and Lucia Nogueira although not so keen on Neal Tait's effort! A stimulating afternoon which has made me want to dig out that old paintbox.

Paul Percival

We had a truly enjoyable visit to this exhibition. The brief tour through the history of the use of the medium was fascinating and Turner's work in particular is stunning.

The contemporary stuff however just left me thinking that the king had just been in demonstrating new clothes - some 'artist' evidently have a way of explaining their work that really works on the gullible; how do they get the floor and wall space!?

jeffery simpson

I know that acrylic paint is water soluble, but I wasn't expecting to see works in that medium in a show called "watercolour". Getting up close to "Rigi" and its sketch was worth going along for anyway. I look forward to the forthcoming Acrylic show and hope to see some watercolours in that.

chantal lewis-v...

An exhibition of discovery for me. It made me feel like trying the medium which I've always thought was too difficult. Very interested in the development of pigments and material used in water-colour.


Anyone interested in painting should see this show. For me it is one of the best shows I have seen for some time. I shall certainly return again and agian.

Watercolour is a notoriously difficult medium and so to see it used by artists of every stripe and purpose over nearly a thousand years is very illuminating. I was particularly interested in trying to work out the technique used to achieve the results the artist wanted.

I need hardly say the paintings are ravishingly lovely and the more recent bold, large scale use of watercolour was an eye opener for me.

Dennis Attwood


I enjoyed it and look forward to visiting again in the near future to fully appreciate more of the exhibits that were new to me. I certainly enjoyed seeing some of the tried and trusted favourites.

Nicola Peers

Excellent exhibition - especially liked the history of watercolour and the old paintpots and brushes. The last room could have been more impressive - and get rid of the Tracey Emin work which is rubbish.

chris farrow

Very informative.Greatly expanded my understanding of the whole genre. Turner and Cotman I already appreciated and really there should be a wider appreciation of the latter. Edward Burra was a find for me. I will endeavour to find out more.Thanks

Ruth Hutchinson

I found the exhibition very interesting, I had not previously thought of some of the mediums as watercolour.Iloved the Sandra Blow but would never have expected to see it in that context. I have learnt something! Botanical paintings are a particular interest of mine and were the initial impetus to see the exibition. On the whole for sheer enjoyment the earlier works were of most interest to me but I think it was the scope of the exibition that was its strength.

Alex Calinescu

Did we visit the same show? The last room was a huge relief...full of lights, and air, ok, not everything was to my taste, but it wasnt just showing contemporary work, there were wonderfully free and fluid Turner's (two from the Beginning works, and Boats at Sea). I also thought the Callum Innes pieces were beautiful!

Genie Poretzky Lee

A very timely exhibition in my personal experience. I have recently been tempted to use watercolors in my practice and am aware what a sensitive and difficult medium it can be. I very much enjoyed the show, have learned a lot from it. Many thanks to all involved in producing this exhibition.. Genie

Genie Poretzky Lee

A very timely exhibition in my personal experience. I have recently been tempted to use watercolors in my practice and am aware what a sensitive and difficult medium it can be. I very much enjoyed the show, have learned a lot from it. Many thanks to the organisers and curator. Genie


Very disappointed with the watercolour exhibition this weekend and choice of painters.We came along way for the exhibition and for an entry fee of £13-14 we might of expected more choice of painters,it all seemed to be very thin and just filling gaps of wall space.I particulary like Edward Seago who was not represented.


I thought this exhibition was fantastic at showing off the versatility of this medium. It was amazing to look in detail at some of the landscape works and the botanical pics. The only complaint... The lady giving my friends and me dirty looks for having babies that made a noise (no screaming or tears) and for standing in front of the pictures... to discuss them. The exhibition is for the public in all our guises, shapes and sizes. Or are there official rules that warrant exclusivity for some?

Mark North

I agree with the general criticism of the exhibition that the term watercolour has been rather loosely applied; and that the last room includes some rather feeble works. Surely the message can not be that modern watercolour artists lack the skills and imagination of their predecessors? Also where were master exponents such as Heath Robinson, Arthur Rackham and today's Michael Frith? Apart from this, a great exhibition.

Lionel Alexander

Very comprehensive show - hard to believe that many of the pictures from former centuries are actually watercolour, with such amazing and precise detail. However for me the real charm of the medium is when pictures demonstrate the unique qualities of watercolour, particularly wet-in-wet, to produce effects one just couldn't get with a brush. In view of the 17000 sketches etc I believe Turner bequeathed, i thought he was a bit under represented - but obviously space was finite, and you would want to show as large a range of artists as possible. I look forward to seeing the show again.

salvo xerri

I visited the gallery yesterday with my wife. I thoroughly enjoyed going thru each room looking at the wonderful paintings, as well as the history thru the ages excellent. The audio that went with the exhibits was quite informative. I must say the last room left rather cold especially the "dust sheet" at the end of the room. I am not a painter but I must say I felt like someone is trying to take the proverbial mickey. Not to end on a negative note I did enjoy my visit like I have done in the past when I visited the Tate Britain before. Good luck in your future exhibitions.

isabel Thurston

Interesting links between the historical and practical uses of the medium and a good exploration of the possibilities. Good representative examples from all the old favourites and the greats. Would have liked more 18th/19th century satirical works. The beauty of the old maps and botanical drawings was staggering especially compared to the completely inane plastic thing at the end. Hmm, enough said.

Sally Titterington

I had a great time, I loved the small still life c. 1830 by Davis Cox, of brick red ceramic vases, what a fine piece and so timeless. This is a great exhibition of work where one can discover new names and whilst not everyone is represented, how could this be possible? I like the range. I loved Lucia Nogueira's work what a talent the yellow arch with the glass funnel is beautiful. Nice one Tate!

Gwynneth Burnside

Unfortunately it did not live up to hype & expectation. Not enough examples of Victoria/Edwardian art displayed. To see some pictures you had to lean in over the display cabinets. Why not put magnifying glasses out (e.g. V & A) to appreciated the fine detail on the miniatures, the illustrated books and the smaller portraits on wood. If displaying Queen Vic's satchel why not not an example of her work. Last room needed much more in it. Why the improvisation display? Plastic sheeting yes but example of water colour art sorry no.

Alastair Creamer

Some unexpected highlights - Arthur Melville's Blue Night and Edward Burra's Valley and River. I knew Turner, Piper and Ravilious would be magnificent. But the picture of the show was Jenny Franklin's Scorched Earth, Regeneration 2001. It reveals everything about the nature of watercolour - how it bleeds, how paper resists, the passage of water and pigment, chance, deliberate brush strokes and the fragmentation that can happen when things come together. I could look at that painting for ever.

Mary Knight

I always enjoy going to art galleries and seeing exhibitions - and the Watercolour one was no different.

One of the things I thought that was good about this one was that it did show a range of painters' use of watercolour. I was also pleased to see that in reality, 'mixed media' was on much on show, which challenged all those water colour purists who believe that there is one paint and one way of using that paint. (This is for all those day-class students who have been discouraged from using, say, white paint, because it's not water colour, or from leaving paint lines on show because it's less-than-proper - it might be just what the painting needs).

I was especially pleased to see contemporary artists who had used the medium. Lovely to see Turner but I did feel that the Tate already rattles with Turner and that his work dominated, somehow, the whole exhibition.

What I thought was missing was some representation of the thousands of people who use watercolour all over the country for professional and leisure purposes. Why doesn't the Tate run a smaller-than-the-Turner prize competition for these people? A room-full of their work would have been appropriate, I think.

I agree with the blogger who suggested that the information about water-colour methods might have come first.

I'm going to go again, now, to see if I'd stick with these comments or whether the next time, it'll be a completely different exhibition for me.


I enjoyed the exhibition, but would have liked to have seen some Hockney work. I did find the layout a bit confusing and did not like the modern stuff especially the plastic thing at the end. I loved the Turners and the botanical art. I have just tried botanical painting and can appreciate the time it takes to complete a piece. It took me 2hours to paint a leaf! On the whole the exhibition was an enjoyable experience. I am certainly glad I went.


Some quirky inclusions like Edward Lear and Victor Hugo gave the show a satisfyingly thoughtful dimension. Also the maps, scientific illustrations and prayer books, one of which was so lovingly and tenderly made, it brought me to tears. I was pleased to see Dulac included because otherwise there wasn't much from the golden age of chiludren's book illustration. I was amazed and my breath taken away by the work of some of the 19th and early 20th century artists - the size and depth of colour and texture - and would have liked to read as much on their individual techniques perhaps, as was given for some modern works. Except for Anish Kappoor and Patrick Heron and one or two others, much of the modern work - in the last one and a half rooms at any rate - was insipid, superficial and thoroughly disappointing: the words 'they're 'avin a larf' sprang to mind and it depressed us so much that neither of us wanted to leave the exhibition with that work as our final thought. The plastic at the end sums it up really, being all very well in its tedious way as a supposedly 'new' way of using the medium; but did we really want to pay to look at dull and unoriginal student' work? And I'll probably get blasted for this but really... does the miserable, self-obsessed Tracey Emin always have to be invited to every party? This was surely supposed to be a celebration not a wake. The space taken up by her weak depressing and superficial little daubs could have been used for more powerful and thoughtful work.

Pamela Robertshaw

Overall we really enjoyed the Watercolours. On Friday afternoon it was fairly quiet so we had plenty of time and space to look at everything.The final room was very disappointing and an insult to the skill of the previous artists. Who is kidding who? This is just my opinion and maybe others can see something in these offerings.Not many people seemed to spend much time looking at them compared to the other rooms. As Art Fund members over 60 we thought it was very good value.

Julia Robb

Fantastic- thank you very much for putting this exhibition together. I really enjoyed studing the pieces especially the nature pieces, and was facinated how fine the strokes are (literally a single hair)! a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends!

philip maguire

the masters on display in this wonderful exhibition,I wonder what they would have made of this intellectual critical crud that clogs like a poorly mixed pallet x

Richard Hoyle

We travelled from Yorkshire especially to see the show. The feelings were mixed. I really appreciated the structure and the inclusion of the medieval works. The show really opened my eyes to the diversity and variety of water colour. So here the show succeeded. Turner and Burn Jones alone are always worth the trip. Also I gained a new perspective on Nash. The last room, I thought, was a wasted opportunity of precious space. Where were the modern water colourists? Where was the development of water colour in a modern setting. As for the big girls pants! Interesting perhaps, but I failed to see the value, only the opportunity lost. So we left with mixed views.

John Parker

Most of the show was captivating, especially in its coverage of the early history of the medium and the equipment that the early painters used. I am an architect, now nearing retirement, and I was also a land surveyor in my younger days. At the beginning of my career the use of watercolour was a vital ability in both professions. Since them it has been a lifelong pastime for me. Skill was always the watchword

Like so many other of your correspndents I found the final room a total anti-climax and, as with so much of recent art, all semblance of skill was forgotten. Surely the Tate can find plenty of modern painters who can be favourably compared with their predecessors? Displaying some of the quick studies of Turner and Cozens to give credibility to the pathetic "finished works” of the other items on display only confirmed my view. I carefully watched the reactions of everyone else entering the final room, and it was generally a mixture of disbelief, puzzlement and amusement. After our slow absorbed progress through the other rooms we and most other visitors swiftly moved on.

Mauricio Sapata

Beautiful and inspiring... Congratulations to Tate for such well curated exhibition.


Very pleased to have made the effort to travel across London on a bright Sunday morning. Really enjoyed dashing my preconceptions about water colour painting and it even inspired me to experiment myself. Particularly loved the botanical paintings and last two more contemporary rooms. My favourite pieces have gotta be the Doigs Adam (the) Graff

kathy stott

As non - artists we both enjoyed the exhibition particularly the historical passage of it. Also, as non-artists, the section on watercolour technique was intriguing for us. Always thought of watercolours as a rather 'waterey' landscape medium but the liveliness and impact of some of the paintings was wonderful. Really enjoyed it- will try and see it again. kath and Nev

Mary Macdougall

I visited the exhibition with my daughter, my 8 month old grandson Charlie, an artist friend, and my 86 year old mother-in-law and it's hard to say who was most enchanted! The exhibition has been brilliantly put together. Watercolour is such an amazing medium - subtle, flexible and full of surprises! The works in the exhibition show all of this and so many of them are achingly beautiful. I've recommended the exhibition to LOTS of friends. Go and see it!!!

sheila pehrson

I found the exhibition fascinating and memorable. I enjoyed seeing the variety of paintings, admired the enormous skill and talent of the artists and was always drawn back to the beautiful Turner sketch book. But overall I found myself disappointed that some British artists of today had not been keyed into this celebration of watercolour. I missed, for example an obvious candidate, Elizabeth Blackadder and another, David Hockney and a particular favourite, Jennifer Macrae. The exhibition left me hanging in the air in the Sandra Blow room, just like the piece of pink plastic, and I found myself literally looking for the door to another room of watercolour that would, in some coherent way, draw together the strands of this exhibition, and make reference to the continuing high standard of work by British artists in this medium. It just seemed to fizzle out!


Liked the Melville picture of Venice in particular. Impressed by the range of scale covered by watercolour from the miniatures (a magnifying glass would have been handy) to the vast works usually done in oils. Also impressed by the vivid colours of the gouache works and would now like to have a go at using gouache myself. Also liked the section on painting materials. I think this complements the standing Colour and Line exhibit in the Tate's Clore gallery (free entry) which I also had a look at. Even though I liked many of the gouache works I would really have liked more emphasis on the traditional transparent watercolours with perhaps more pen or pencil and wash studies. And perhaps more on watercolours used to illustrate fiction. But all-in-all I enjoyed this exhibition.

Stephen Alexander

An excellent, informative and luscious show. I hesitate to make curatorial comments but, as a non-artist, I would have preferred the technique display at the beginning not the middle. Also I had to look up "Gouache" on Wikipedia as I searched,in vain, for a definition in the exhibition and the catalogue.

Alan Rushton

The exhibition was very imformative with some excellent examples of both detailed and expresionist paintings.The small section on the history of "the paint box etc" was interesting especially as it brought home how few colours you actually need to produce a brilliant picture. The last section of modern work appeared to be less about painting and more about the perceived importance of the artist. None the less well worth the visit.

Jenny WR

Our large group of watercolourists visited the Watercolour exhibition at Tate Britain recently and everyone on the whole were thrilled by what we saw. I personally was impressed by the great range of styles of works ensuring that there was something for everyone to admire, enjoy and discuss.

Thank you for organising such a spectacular exhibition

Neil McDermott

My wife and I visited the exhibition yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. The layout and flow of the pictures was just right and my wife particualarly enjoyed the audio commentary. Wonderful

Mike Flaherty

I live in Switzerland so have limited opportunity to visit the Tate exhibitions. Tate Britain's Watercolour exhibition is yet another example of what great value the Tate membership is. Really informative, great diversity and scope and less we forget many, many, wonderful paintings. I spent a whole morning with a smile on my face just drinking in the vast breadth of the paintings on show. A real joy, well done Alison Smith and team. Thank You. PS This exhibition was worth it just for the Turners alone.... you Brits don't appreciate just how fortunate you are!

panayiotis andidoros

I actually found the museum style pieces of Queen Elizabeth & Turners materials more interesting than the exhibition.

John walford

I found this exhibition very stimulating as so much was about technique. I think the development of abstraction as the medium is so fluid was fascinating and in such a context Tracey Emin deserved a place.Personally I found most of the landscapes very safe but the Turner painting "Fountains Abbey" is one of my all time favourites by him and the Rennie Macintosh landscape was breathtaking. You are not going to please everyone but very enjoyable and plenty to think about.

gillian Buchanan

wonderful exhibition - really shows what can be achieved with watercolour although I would agree that the modern pictures were not as impressive as the older ones. Audio guide helpful - postcard selection not great!

Aline and David...

Aline's hobby is History of Art, something which she has only taken up in recent years, she has never painted in her life, in fact, she has just painted a very child-like copy of a photograph. But does enjoy other peoples talents. So we don't know much about water colours. However, we really enjoyed it, particularly the older art and the wonderful painting of beans by a contemporary artist. Regarding the other "new" art, we feel that most of it is a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes" and we don't like or understand it. The painting of the beans we felt, this artist was fascinating and this sort of picture is what we think the future of painting after photography is about. Aline and David Griffiths

Celia Smith

I'd waited long time to see this exhibition and it started with great excitment...I am no artist but just apprecitate good painting...the maps and miniatures just amazing,the botanicals, beautiful but not enough and it just got less exciting as I went round. The best bit was the explanation and artifacts. Wonderful pieces from the masters and some great war pictures (an exhibition on it's own) Plenty to see, but a whole lot missing, like the curate's egg..good in parts.

john greenaway

a very accessible and varied exhibition, educating but not preaching . Surprised at the vivid colour and strength of presentation and loved the spaces and freedom of the venue

Jo Powell

A wonderful way to spend a rainy bank holiday afternoon. Glorious mix of work; the themed style of presentation was well balanced and informative.


very nice