Our exhibition Watercolour is now open at Tate Britain.

Visitor looking at Sandra Blow 'Vivace' 1988

Sandra Blow Vivace 1988: what do you think?

© Estate of Sandra Blow

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

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

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

Courtsey British Museum

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

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

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

Courtesy The British Museum

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

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

Alison Smith Lead Curator, Watercolour



As a Tate member I dont pay to get in- had I had to do so I think I would have felt short changed. It was like the proverbial curates egg. But I did make time to look at other parts of Tate Britain which reminded me why I was a member!

Chris & Gil...

We had waited a long time to see this exhibition and generally was well worth it. I personally did not enjoy the final room and we thought the techniques through the ages section would be best at the beginning. We also took in the Vorticists exhibition, which we thought was excellent. We were intrigued to see one visitor viewing most of the exhibits from afar using binoculars.

Julian Davies

I have to admit that I went to the Watercolour show mainly on the strength of seeing the Patrick Heron work which was used in the advertising; and while I enjoyed the work in the final room more than most, I really liked seeing the way that the use of watercolour has evolved through the centuries. Nice to see the use of gouache and acrylic celebrated alongside more conventional watercolour too.


I was terribly disappointed by this show. I am a watercolour painter and expected to be inspired by some great works of art, particularly from contemporary artists - but where were they? The show serves as a comprehensive history of watercolour but then seems to stop dead midway through the 20th C. Okay there were a couple of modern painters but it felt to me like the Tate had lost its nerve - relying upon the popularity of Turner and Burra to carry the exhibition into the 21st C instead of actually going out into the world of watercolour and finding some genuinely inspiring pieces. I can't see how Tate is going to change the minds of those that think watercolour is the poor relation to oil (and what were those acrylics doing in the last room?)


An afterthought: the show mentions in one of the earlier rooms that the Royal Watercolour Society and the Society of Painters in Watercolour are still both going strong today but where were they represented? Did their members refuse to take part?

ann pollard

Really enjoyed this exhibition and particularly amazed at the early 'cross section' of the watercoloured map at the beginning. Found the audio informative but, several pictures not commented on I would have liked to know more about: one in particular called 'Catherine' although I can't recall the artist. Who was she; what was the artist portraying?

Susan Way

For someone who has recently taken up using watercolours, I found the ehibition fascinating. It exhibited a very wide range of what can be done with watercolours and so promoting it as a very flexible medium. We went early so it was quieter and it was really good to be able to look very closely at how the artists achieved their effects. I was enthused to spend more time with my paint and brushes instead of the hassle and stress of work!

Paul Hallgarth

I enjoyed this exhibition and thought that some of the early paintings were superb. Like others, I felt that some of the modern works did not bring much to the exhibition and nore did I like the 'theme' style.

Not the best Tate exhibition that I have seen but I did take the opportunity to look around the Tate and enjoyed this as much, if not more than this exhibition.

Bill Lea

The exhibition certainly achieves its objective of revealing the varied history of watercolour, but overall I was a little disappointed because the unique qualities of the medium were represented by too few works.

The final room with its "plastic bag", painted sticks and Emin daubs simply brings discredit to the exhibition, but on the other hand it is fairly representative of the vacuousness at the heart of much current art appreciation and criticism; the exhibition can therefore safely claim to be comprehensively up to date.

Brian Goodey

I came for the Burras expecting mad crowds, but plenty of space to contemplate ... and discovered Lucy Skaer. Well organised with surprises and old friends

Penelope Lowndes

This was my second visit and I enjoyed it just as much. Again I was bowled over by the range of what can be produced with watercolour. I have recently done an introductory watercolour course and found it fascinating to look again with more knowledgeable eye at how some of the effects were produced. It will inspire me to be a bit more adventurous! But apart from that the range of date and type of art here was excellent.

Sueanne Matthews

So pleased I became a TATE member even though I'm in London for just 5 days it was so worth it to see all these great exhibitions without queing. The watercolour exhibition is informative about the material practice and conceptual possibilities within the medium. I was equally thrilled to see Turner works, miniatures and the stunning Andy Goldsworthy snowball work! I thought it would be a bit "Fuddy Duddy" but it was relevant to contemporary practice of artists through the inspired curating. Thank you!

Roger Gray

There is a tendancy to go to exhibitions that feature one or two artists and to be impressed by their skill but this exhibition showed much more about how the use of watercolours had developed over time and how that development had contributed to those skills. The early use of watercolour, very much two dimensional, but still showing the vivid colours achieveable, through to the modern day, which with several exhibts has come back to the two dimensional, shows how well the medium can be used in many styles of painting.


I really enjoyed this exhibition (except for the last room, viz the many previous comments - that polythene thing was awful!) and learned a lot. Astounding how modern Turner is.

Mike Abbott

Superb exhibition, I shall return before it closes. Very impressed with water colour work that captures very fine, almost photograhic, detail. Beautiful craftsmanship.


I visited on 14 July, and enjoyed most of the exhibition,with the exception of the last room. What was that all about? That one room spoiled what would otherwise have been an excellent exhibition!

Full marks to Tate Britain for making the galleries so accessible. I am disabled and unable to walk more than a few steps. Thanks to the free motorised scooter hire, I was able to spend five comfortable hours at the Tate and see the permanent collections, as well as the Watercolours exhibition.

Martin Spence

I visited the exhibition last Friday evening after a frustating day at work and it cheered me up and calmed me down. I used the audio guide: the historical context was good, but some of the critical comment rather banal. I liked a lot of the C19th and C20th landscapes, especially urban. Delighted to come across Ravilious for whom I have enormous affection. Was amused by the C19th societies whose main aim seems to have been to make watercolours look as much as possible like oils. I didn't object to the notorious final room as much as some, maybe because it included the lovely Turner colour beginnings. Martin Spence

Patricia Ellis

I found the exhibition interesting in giving the historical development of watercolour art, however I was disappointed with the balance of contemporary and traditional. I would have liked to have seen many more examples of 20th century work and particularly of the contemporary / experimental artists in the medium. I also quibble about the inclusion of acrylic. What I will take away with me as stimulating to me as an artist is the Lucy Skaer, Anish Kapoor and the other modern experimental work which challenges the idea that watercolour work has to stay within the 'traditional' and realist mode.

Periwinkle Unwin

From the sublime to the rediculous, for this exhibition is full of fascinating, beautiful and richly skilled water collours until what had been an exhilirating experience deteriorated abruptly in the last gallery, where the contemporary works presented a thoroughly depressing example of vacuity and pretentiousness leaving us with a bleak feeling of being thoroughly let down.Periwinkle and John N W

Georgina Porter

Fascinating and diverse collection of work, but surely it was a watercolour exhibition not a water based exhibition, why confuse it with the inclusion of two pieces of work in acrylic, especially one so large. Also a Constable study would have added to the earlier work.

Stephan Aal

I've been trying to get to the exhibition for weeks and finally made it yesterday.

As an exhibition of how watercolour has developed, I couldn't fault it.

I normally don't buy the catalogue for exhibitions I go to because they are often reproductions that fail to do justice to the originals and are full of academic commentary on the work. This one was different and I was pleased to buy it and will read it avidly before coming again before it ends.

Now we need exhibitions dedicated to each of the topics shown ... there's the watercolour programme for the next few years!!

Alison Barker

I brought my Mum and Dad to the Watercolour exhibition last Thursday and we thoroughly enjoyed our day. My Dad paints in watercolour and I knew he would be interested in both the practical side of the techniques as well as looking at the art. He loved it and could add to my and my Mum's experience by talking about his own painting.

My personal favourite was the room on the Renaissance with the miniatures and the book illuminations. I am familiar with Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver anyway, as I did my Masters in Art History, and the Renaissance is my favourite period. It was wonderful to see items 'in the flesh' that I had read about but never seen!

I have to say that I did not enjoy the final room at all, although I did read about some of the items, instead of completely passing them by. I prefer older art, so that is probably the reason. Something the exhibition did for me, was to make me realise how wide ranging watercolour can be and how it has spanned so many centuries.

Both my Dad and I bought the catalogue, so I think that proves how much we all enjoyed the overall experience. Thank you.

Rosemary Lucas

Second visit and hired the audio guide this time round which was realy helpful.

Vaughan Clark

A lovely exhibition. I particularly liked the paintings of flowers and other flora. It challenged my preconceptions about watercolour.

Mark S Steed

If art exhibitions are not to be biopic they need the curator to explore some unifying theme or tradition - preferably in an innovative and insightful way. The choice of a medium, watercolour, presents a myriad of possibilities (there is so much material from which to choose) but, at the same time is fraught with problems (how to retain a sense of coherence beyond the simple connection of the medium). Hereby hangs the paradox of this exhibition.

The curator's notes give due warning to the visitor:

"This exhibition explores what watercolour can achieve in terms of technique and expression that no other medium can, and why it is capable of producing an astonishing variety of effects, from subtle atmospheric washes to brilliant translucent colour."

Watercolour at the Tate is eclectic but it lacks cohesion. Starting as it does with the pre-cursors and early uses of watercolour it seems, at times, to purport to track the history of the medium. However such a view is misleading as the exhibition swiftly abandons a chronological analysis for an uncritical celebration of "the association of watercolour with famous masters such as Blake, Turner and Girtin."

This exhibition is a missed opportunity as it lacks the necessary coherence, but it is an enjoyable romp through time and technique.

Sue Willmer

Enjoyed the majority, magical to see some of the inspirational works of Turner, Samuel Palmer Cotman etc and I thought the inclusion of a section on artists materials etc an excellent idea.However if we are to accept some of the most recent work as truly representative of the work of 21st century watercolourists I am horrified and ashamed of the art establishment that is promoting it as such .It is time to break free of the 'it must be good it is by Emin 'idea . New techniques and adventurous artists with interesting work alongside more traditional but exceptional artists would truly represent this century, but not some of the unadulterated rubbish we were treated to at the end of the exhibition.What a shame to be left feeling dispirited at the end instead of excited and inspired.

B Mossakowski

Everything was going well until I saw the Tracey Emin smudge. Luckily, in the catalogue it's on the reverse page of Bethan Huws scribble, so I can cut out the entire page.


I liked it. More down to earth amd informative than many expos. The story of the development of watercolours was fascinating. Some of the techniques used and effects achieved defied all my preconceptions of what a watercoulr is. Naturally, like all good Philistines, I approached the final room with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. But I was glad to see the contemporary "take" on watercolours. A comprehensive and varied exhibition. Satisfying to visit.

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!)


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!!


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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 !

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.

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.

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?


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!

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

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

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.

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!

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.


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.

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!!

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.


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.)

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