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


Ilse Ryder

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

Malcolm Griffin

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

Linda Winnett

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

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

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

Edmund West

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

Neal Bamford

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


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

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

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

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

Richard Kirby

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

São Pinto da Costa


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


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


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


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


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

Sarah Carter

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

brooke fitzsimons

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

Jean Bardsley

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


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


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


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

Elaine Taylor

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

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

Very worthwhile. Thank you Tate Britain!


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

annette fry

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

annette fry

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

Danny Whinder

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


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

Ronny Day

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


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


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

Chris Howard

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