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


J Emmerson


GP Hyde

No Russell Flint, then? (joke) Seriously, I found it a quite interesting set of paintings but not really about watercolour. This takes us into quibbles about definitions but for me, most of these paintings seemed to have been done using gouache or tempera ie opaque media. For me, water colour is esentally about using a transparent media that has a luminosity as the light bounces off the white paper or ground. So I didn't get much out of this show. I wa amazed at the entrance price - this is where being a Tate member really pays off as you can see a dud show like this but not get aggrieved over forking out - what was it, £14?

Julie Parry

Not normally a fan of watercolour, I found this exhibition fascinating. Highlights for me were the early maps and the works by Edward Burra. I was most impressed by the skill demonstrated in using this difficult medium, especially by the earlier artists. I didn't mind that the concept of watercolour was stretched to include gouache etc.

deirdre mcardle

Tracey Emin is a gutter snipe,and that's not a moral judgement simply a statement of fact.She restates that Baudelairen idea of women.Oscar Wilde said we are in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars,well not Tracey. The gutter cannot be denied of course,beauty is truth after all,but there is more! Her little bird notions,often the symbol for the spirit, state her child self that cannot fly, probably never will,to critisise her feels like hitting a child. Her 'Bed'of course fulfilled the scupltural edict of truth to materials (it is what it is to the center,no false interior)along with all the Freudian,primal scene etc. And the historic 'femme couche' removes herself to stand with the viewer. But where does she go after that? does she stand outside that room full of failed paintings and wish (of course she's not alone!) (oh and Tracey 9/11 didn't come to save YOU. )

deirdre mcardle

criticise (!)


Overall I was disappointed although the Burra was quite wonderful. Expectations were for more watercolours from artists who make this medium their own. The miniatures and botanical studies were exquisite but the modernists were very disappointing.

Francis Howard

I thought the Watercolour exhibition was deeply disappointing. It started off well with interesting and for me many unknown works from the 18th and 19th centuries, especially some of the larger works for early exhibition. However I can not imagine why the mixed bag of war paintings was singled out for prominence - they add little to the story of watercolour. But the worst was the back end of the show (figuratively as well) with a rag bag of works including a huge acrylic best for decorating some crass commercial vestibule and craven attention to Tracey Emins ridiculous little doodlings. Where were some of the 19th and 20th century masters who really used watercolour as it should be like Brabazon, Casson, Seago or Yardley, to name but a few? These are the people who have carried on the tradition of watercolour at its best with such skill and artistry. "Watercolour" as an exhibition of the art of watercolour is an insult to the artists of the last 150 years. The Tate has gone cravenly to works which take us nowhere just for the contemporary names. What an appalling waste of opportunity.

Julian Lovegrove

An excellent exhibition, except for one ommission. You did not have any of my favoutite watercolour artist, Hercules Brabazon Brabazon. I particularly enjoy watercolours which exploit the medium, ie: water. HB Brabazon worked in a very fluid watery way, much like the later Turner Venetian watercolours, of which you had a couple of fine examples. Full of atmosphere, and misty 'impressionism'. Julian Lovegrove

A. Xavier and M...

We enjoyed the exhibit and like the way it was arranged. It absorbed our interest so that we were unaware of how much time we had spent in the exhibition. We thought the ticket pricing was fair.

Gillian preston

Four friends together visited yet another Tate exhibition and this one had us talking and talking! As a non painter I would have preferred the information about different types of watercolour techniques at the beginning....so that I could have related to the differing paper etc all the way through. All four of us though were disappointed with the final room....we were all underwhelmed :-( My female friend took exception to the "plastic bag" and you may be pleased with the result, as we discussed what on earth it was doing in the exhibition over coffee in the cafe!

deirdre mcardle

But for example FH. making buildings out of Portland Stone,with decorative carvings,is a 'tradition left behind isn't. Art is not 'a tradition' but a developing ,evolving process as is all culture/society. This 'there's no skill in it business has never really been properly got to grips with and goes back to misapprehensions with the onset of modernism and abstraction. 'Skill 'is often just practice remember and 'gesture/form 'is just that wherever it sits,in the clouds or in a scrumpled sheet.If the punk energy in some contemporary pieces energises the psyche that can be just as much a boon to overcome our human condition as wonder at the beauty of 'nature'(and after all mate how much respect has mankind ultimately shown to nature for all its beauty !)


I found the exhibition a nice walk round but a bit weak with the token Turner's and Emin's. Possibly if you knew nothing about watercolour painting it would provide an education but for me there was nothing astounding to walk away with.


I went yesterday afternoon, very quiet and a pleasant environment. I love watercolour, and have been to several exhibitions in London over recent years, so in some cases this was like seeing old friends (white House at Chelsea, etc). In another way, however, I found it revealing and innovative - connecting the traditional English watercolour to the earlier period, maps and miniatures - I loved the pollarded oak, and the Hilliard in particular. I found some of the modern work interesting, too, but less so - it didn't seem to matter that much of it was watercolour, if that makes sense. I was disappointed with the relative aucity of the masters- Turner, Sandby, Cotman, Gilpin, Girtin etc, and very little marine work, but I suppose you just didn't have space?

Two final comments - some of the Turners (two boats) were almost abstract and almost calligraphic - what about a watercolour/calligraphy comparative exhibition?

And why are the postcards so limited - unable to buy a p/card of the Pollarded Oak, which was absolutely lovely!

Sue Harnett

I am what I call a Sunday afternoon water colour painter, and found the exhibition both fascinating and inspiring, having personally moved from the more formal to the more expressive painting I enjoyed following the historical development. I have always admired Turner and found seeing his pictures and the palette and paints he used fascinating. A great afternoon.

Pat Rudkins

We absolutely adored both the Miro & WaterColours yesterday, despite what a passenger on the Tate to Tate boat said! Add a lovely lunch in the Rex Whistler room & it made for a great day out. Both shows were well planned, informatively-titled & full, "meaty" reflections of both an artist & a genre. Well done!

Edith Robson

This was an enjoyable expedition for me until I reached the last section. The previous seven showed skill to be admired even if I did not particularly like the subject. But what a bit of hanging plastic has to do with watercolour I do not know. We can all let dribbles or deluges of paint roll down a canvas to produce a fairly random effect or paint some sticks from the garden. What I wanted was to understand the craftmanship that went into the works. This was obvious in the earlier 'rooms' where there was much to admire. I would have wished to have seen more. The little booklet had a very useful glossary. The section on equipment used in previous centuries was fascinating. I have increased my knowledge of the technical art of 'watercolour' by those I would call masters. The café was overcrowded which is a worry when you reach a certain age of decreptitude. In the shop, the selection of reproductions available to purchase was poor, only one person on the till which refused to work efficiently so another 20 mins queuing on tired feet holding two very heavy books was not welcome. The website froze when I was attempting to purchase tickets in the first place but no one seemed interested in knowing although staff on the whole were polite and attentive. I did enjoy my day out - I spent five hours travelling so it was indeed a day - but I feel that there are places where the overall experience could be improved.

R West

It was interesting to see watercolours by some of the famous names in the field from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuaries, which are not often easy to see because of the mediums vulnerability to fading in the light. I should have liked to see more pictures from that period with some supporting biographical information and background on, for example, the Norwich School. On the other hand the paintings designed for exhibition were impressive and the covering of technique good for someone like me who is not a practising artist. Continuing into the modern period also completed the historical link. Overall I enjoyed the exhibition and saw what I expected to a large extent, apart from my previous reservations.

Valentina River...

Excellent exhibition!!! Very good idea to show a chronological history of the use of watercolours. Particularly impressed with the very old miniatures, the colours looked so well preserved and the degree of detail (skill) is astonishing. Indeed a superb account of the use of the media. Congratulations.


Enjoyed this exhibition very much- a great range of genre and technique represented and some revelations- agree with many others that the contemporary watercolour painting section was rather weak and unrepresentative of the range of contemporary art practice. Putting Turner in the last room did make a rather stark contrast with a couple of the contemporary contributors- why use the final room only for 'unorthodox' use of watercolour (acrylic?)- why not show a range of contemporary work in watercolour, including both experimental and traditional techniques? Last point- too few women artists represented throughout the show- apart from last room- why?

David J Andrews

Very good. I came to it after the Miro and found the contrast astonishing.

Phillip Taylor

Loved the first rooms, especially the contemporary seed painting, which contrasted beautifully with the older, natural history paintings. The landscapes were very beautiful, but then raced through the rest, particulary disappointed in the last two rooms. Also felt the audio commentary was uninspiring. I think prices are becoming much too high. If I wasn't a member I would not imagine ever paying this much for an exhibition.

Kate Baxter

My friends and I travelled down from Newcastle for the day to see this exhibition, all amatuer watercolourists, we enjoyed seeing and discussing the exhibition although all agreed we were`nt inspired. My particular favourite was the Rennie Mackintosh and I liked seeing the actual medias used by Turner etc. An interesting exhibition but not one I would go to see again. The Tracy Emin and plastic bag caused much hilarity.


Thank you for a very interesting, diverse and well laid out exhibition. I had not realised how versatile and precise watercolour painting could be and it was a pleasure to be enlightened by the selection on show. The contemporary watercolours were lacking in any real interest or skill for me but they provided an interesting juxtaposition to the older works.

An exhibition worth seeing.

clara gilbert

Fascinating exhibition. Used the audio guide, which was helpful and easy to use. Disappointed with the modern selection - a disjunction here, a selection that did not to me illuminate or provide a coherent picture of watercolourists working now. Given that you can do practically anything in watercolour, a greater range of modern work would have been nice. I do not blog, do facebook etc, so this is a one-off. Life's too short and I have painting to do.

Elizabeth Roome

I LOVED the exhibition - especially the older works which revealed real artistic skill and talent. I myself am a decidedly amateur artist, who is experimenting with using watercolours, and even I can manage blobs like those on display by Tracey Emmin !!!!!

But overall, it was most enjoyable, and informative.

deirdre mcardle

it is impossible to "understand" craftsmanship Edith, unless you apprentice it.


I found this to be a fascinating exhibition. Every room offered wonderful examples of the beautiful medium. Although I have only been using watercolour for a short time it never ceases to amaze me what it is able to do. This exhibition confirmed that for me. What a long tradition. The history was intriguing and the whole exhibition worth seeing. The recorded guide was well worth listening to and without that it might have been less informative. Thoroughly enjoyable.

alan cleugh

I am a fan of Burra and saw an exhibition of his work at the Hayward some years back but his paintings at this exhibition were to say the least disappointing. Not even as good as those in the Tate basement. There were far too many pre-raphaelite works and not enough exciting modern ones. Also couldn't Winslow Homer have been squeezed in he did paint in England.

Sushila Surendra

Very good in parts but why wasn't there any Hockney? Not enough of Turner or Singer Sergeant. Except for the Blue Rigi and one or two others they were very sketchy ones. The Botanical paintings were brilliant.

Marilyn Gilliam

We really enjoyed the exhibition and were amazed at the range of different techniques that can be applied to watercolour. We wanted to look at the watercolour through the ages room but it was quite crowded and we didn't have much time yesterday. We will definitely visit again to take advantage of the audio guide. Particularly loved the Burra landscape and the Kapoor. We were disappointed that there was only a postcard of the Kapoor as we would have liked to have bought a framed copy. Oh well maybe you had just sold the last one and we will be lucky next time.

Mark Gilkes

I enjoyed the Watercolour exhibition - but, those of you who decide to go, make sure you experience too Mike Nelson's The Coral Reef, the best thing by far in my visit to Tate Britain that day.

Caroline Goffe

Lovely Exhibition.The paintings are so varied. I liked the history and devlopment of Watercolour Painting in this country. Well done Tate Britain.

Stanley Burnton

We loved the earlier paintings, which opened our eyes as to what can be achieved in watercolour. The botanical samples are amazing, as is the detail in the painting of the fisherman's wife and mother; there are many beautiful paintings by artists of whom we had never heard. But when we came to more recent art, we were very disappointed, and all our prejudices were fortified. Tracy Emin, for example. A notable exception was the painting of seeds of the many varieties of bean plants - stunning.


I agree with many of the comments above, particularly regarding the absence of David Hockney's work - seems barmy to me. Maybe "watercolour" is too big a subject for an exhibition and there are bound to be serious omissions. That does not excuse the inclusion of Emin at the expense of Hockney - it's as though the curators were trying to include extremes rather than representatives of current watercolour practice. Having said that, I loved the Goldsworthy - a brilliant idea as well as true to the nature of water and colour. Overall I enjoyed the show a lot and will return. I will also visit the forthcoming watercolour exhibition at Bankside Gallery to see more contemporary examples of work in this surprisingly exciting and incredibly challenging medium.


PS - thanks for asking my opinion. Someone should be checking these comments though - one of your correspondents seems more than a bit bonkers to me!


I've always thought of watercolour as a rather insipid medium and I'm afraid this exhibition did little to change my view. Obviously an enormous amount of skill was on display but all the really punchy works were ink, gouache or acrylic. Loved the Sandra Blow, Lucy Skaer, Hodgkin and Heron. Callum Innes always interesting. More 'practical' history of gouache technique would have been good.

Drerek & Jill

It opened our eyes to the variety of effects which can be achieved through the medium of watercolours

Katherine Forster

I am not a watercolour devotee bu I found this exhibition a delightful surprise, I was not faced with my expectation of many pretty 'views' but with a wonderful assortment of subjects showing the amazing diversity of this medium. I thought the curating was done beautifully, I loved the mix of work throughout the centuries in each room and am looking forward to returning again. Thanks Katherine

deirdre mcardle

I do beg your pardon Tina if you think that's me! but there WERE lots of people using this site to advertise their "work", that is what I felt was being unleashed ,but they have been removed now. Other remarks are of course only MY opinion!

Winston Parr

I mostly enjoyed the exhibition, but was very disappointed that the Norwich school of water-colour painters was underrepresented, especially the greatest, John Sell Cotman. The view of Norwich Market was of course excellent, but the only landscape offering was undistinguished and any one not familiar with Cotman would go away from the exhibition in ignorance. The star of the show was the Venetian painting by William Callow. What a knockout! Pity it is in a private collection and no reproductions are available. The final section was awful. Why are Emin' s doodles on show?

deirdre mcardle

and for clarity T.the 'failed paintings' refers to TE.'s work (and others of course) not this show ,perhaps you scanned my remarks too quickly. It has to be recognised that 'painting' is a problem for many struggling at the forefront to continue with this erm,genre.

Rupert Powell

Surprisingly few Turners, few mid-nineteenth century watercolours, and few interesting examples of contemporary watercolour. Tate often has a problem with showing contemporary works in relation to historic and modern - as if they are afterthoughts, slapped on to the end of a show by one curator working discretely from others. I wonder if this reflects the curatorial structure more than the expertise available. What would be so wrong with encouraging curators to develop specialisms according to media rather than always according to period? It might just help to make shows like this less disjointed!


Very much enjoyed the first few rooms but was strangely disappointed by the last few.

Teresa Benison

Engaging but not an overly exciting exhibition. I had a sense that the linking of these paintings purely based on the fact that they were watercolours a tad artificial and unsatisfying. Interesting to see the Burne Jones watercolours but as many have said, too much of this sort of thing.

The final room was the best for me with the Patrick Heron and good to see the Peter Lanyon watercolour (having really enjoyed the Peter Lanyon retrospective at Tate st. Ives in January). I thought having some of the more interesting Turners displayed opposite in the same room was inspired.

I do agree, however, that had I not been a tate member, £28 for myself and my husband would have been steep - although that said, he would probably have paid his entry for the Lanyon alone!

Steve Trudgill

Loved the Ruskin leaves, the Piper rocks and the Cotman Downs; the range of Girtin and Dadd was new to me. Enjoyed it all, including the techniques section, though didn't spend much time in the last room....

Laurie McDougall

The highlight of the show for me came as quite an unexpected shock. The painting of a series of men in Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup with their terrible war injuries brought back memories of my Nan. She was only 17 years old when these paintings were done, she was working in the Hospital at the time, nursing these men. She told me stories of the terrible injuries the soldiers came to the Hospital with. Doctors were pioneering plastic surgery techniques on these men, growing skin in drapes from their noses to necks to use to rebuild their faces. She said the nurses used to take the more mobile soldiers out dancing in Sidcup. Daryl Lindsay was only very young himself when he painted these pictures. I will be researching him a bit to find out more about him. A more detailed explanation of what this painting is about is really needed. Glad I saw it.


Watercolour has never been a particular favourite of mine. However this exhibition opened my eyes to its use and potential. I had always associated it with pretty little landscapes, boy was I surprised! I thought it a masterstroke to put the Turners in the contemporary room as at first glance they looked like abstracts (which of course they are). The plastic hanging from the ceiling at the end epitomised (for me) the sad direction of contemporary art practice. I thought to myself 'so this is where all this fine skill and execution has finally ended up!'

It was a little crowded at the time so I will return at a quieter time to look at greater depth.

James Harding

Thought the exhibition was superb both in content and arrangement. Disagree with the comment about more modern exhibits -- quite nicely balanced between the old and the new. Perhaps the prints on sale could have been broader in selection - Dunstalls "Oak" was deserving of inclusion.

Very happy, thank you.

Andrew Knight

Totally agree with most of the comments below. Glad I was a member as I would have felt hard done by paying £14. Melville's 'The Blue Night, Venice' and Langley's 'But Men must Work and Women Weep' two outstanding stars. Sadly, no postcards of these available. I will add to Emin's detractors. I thought her three contributions a disgrace.

Alison Lessen

I enjoyed the exhibition - I took my mother for mothers day, she enjoyed it a little more than I. Maybe its an age thing but I was hoping for more contemporary work and the one painting I really loved "after the fire" was not reproduced in the catalogue or postcards or posters in the shop either. The comentary on the headphones was very interesting, but a little selective.