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



Thought it was excellent. Not too crowded and thought the room dedicated to method and tools was an excellent idea

Anne Guillaume

A very well thought exhibit that I enjoyed a lot. I liked its somehow unconventional display that allowed to grasp so many aspects of watercolour over such a long period, including modern artists. I would strongly recommend the audio guide which is adding some very interesting comments that are not in the catalogue, in particular those from living artists.

Carol Stewart

I enjoyed the historical/thematic arrangement of the exhibition, which did make me appreciate more fully the range of the medium. The detail of the botanical and bird paintings and the power of the war paintings were what impressed me most. I was disappointed not to see more and sometimes better works by the big names in watercolour and would have preferred more contemporary or recent work rather than examples of acrylic, or practice or casual pieces which the artists cannot have intended to be taken seriously. The section on media and techniques seemed to underuse a promising idea of special interest to the many visitors who attempt to paint in watercolour.

June Crisfield ...

Thought the exhibition was wide reaching and interesting up to a point but thanks be I'd already paid my "Friends of " amount - £14 too much for works that were't all borrowed from far far. Watercolour inplies water - so many of the exquisitely controlled picture were just exactly that - exquisitely controlled. There is delight to be realised in the use of watercolour for the wet quality of medium. The works must have given satisfaction to many people endeavouring to improve their ability to reproduce - but rather more exhuberance derived from love of watercolour "stuff" would have stirred the soul!!! (My soul anyway)

Ann Green

Loved the Watercolour exhibition - such a wide range of artists' works. Wonderful to see some of the early Botanical paintings such as Jacques Le Moyne's 'Figs'and also some personal favourites, Girtin, Turner, Sandby, Sutherland. Great to see an exhibition devoted to watercolour and to enjoy and appreciate so many artists' works. Definitely will be back as most enjoyable.

Diana & Joh...

We found the exhibition was a good conspectus of its subject, though we would have liked more examples of the masterpieces, specially in landscape, produced nowadays by people still working in a traditional way (even amateurs). We agree with Julia S on this.

We found much of the work in the final gallery trivial. It would have been enriched by devoting some of the space to children's paintings; they use this medium in much more exciting ways that some of the artists shown.

Ivan Seviour

I thought the exhibition on Watercolours was truly excellent. It was great to see the true versitility of this medium and particularly interesting to see how the use of watercolour has developed through history and the many applications it has been used for.


Fascinating exhibition, thought the Turners and Anish Kapoor were beautiful and the age of some of the pictures unbelievable.And have to agree about the plastic bag, not sure what that was about, but apart from that really enjoyed it. PS. My mate who came with me loved the map, it had the village where his parents live on it!


I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. We were taken along a very imaginative route, and it made me really hope that skill and patience will one day come back into fashion in painting, let alone drawing. Just contrast the magnificent Osprey with the pathetic work of Tracey Emin!

Maggie Fraser

Visited the exhibition yesterday and found it most interesting. I very much liked the earlier works, but found the works in the last room very disappointing.I was impressed by the huge range of exhibits.

I also liked the chronological approach used in showing the various techniques and discovered a copy of a water-colour box I had had myself in my childhood!

Lesley Pearce

As a Tate member and a student of watercolour painting I was very interested to see the different ways in which the mediumn could be expressed. The exhibition did not disappoint, the breadth was inspiring. The detail of the earlier works was humbling. To learn that the 'bean painting' took 94 days was fascinating and explained why my own work often looks rushed. What appealed to me the most though was the looser works of Turner and Piper. I would have enjoyed more with this more contemporary feel.

Wendy Ramsell

I appreciated being permitted to get really close to the paintings so that I could scrutinise them minutely. I enjoyed the early selections,especially the maps and miniatures, but was on overload before completing all the rooms.

Gill Stockbridge

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition - much more than I thought I would actually! I was very impressed with the skill of the early artists and botanical illustrators, moved by the war artists and blown away by Burra's green hill. It was wonderful to be reminded of how versatile this medium is...

Guy Goyvaerts

I was - as always - impressed by Turner, Girtin and Cotman, Hunt confirmed and Arthur Melville's 'Venice' a revelation. but I felt rather disappointed, expecting the exhibition to be more of a reflection of the diversity watercolour allows: i am sure even historically there was more to it than portraits, landscapes and botanical subjects, and this would centrainly be the case with contemporary watercolour ( i paint motorcycle and other engines in watercolour : the contrast between a 'hard' subject and a 'fluid' medium is very rewarding ). it could have been bolder, i think, even the last room. Guy Goyvaerts, Antwerp, Belgium

Anthony Berry

I was very disappointed by the exhibition having previously visited your Turner Exhibition recently.I thought there was too many abstract modern painting. Surely modern watercolour artist also paint the more traditional types of picture such as landscapes. At the price charged it was grossly overpriced.I did however enjoy looking at the Turner watercolours. Where was the "Big Finish" It just did not happen. The final room was of a very poor standard of work. What had the painted twigs to do with watercolour paintings. A child at primary school could have done that. Over all it did not inspire me in any way. Is this how modern artist now see the use of watercolours. Just cirles spoons and twigs. A very expensive day out as I travelled by train from the Northwest solely to see the exhibition (Some 5 hours travel time)


Overall I thought it was a good and interesting exhibition. BUT some of the contemporary stuff was SO shockingly poor, Tracy Emin, Bethan Huws' 4 mean-spirited splashes of nothing in huge frames!, the painted twigs and spoons and sheet plastic. If you saw these in a student show you'd think the young artist misguided - how do they get in the Tate?, and I agree above about the glaring omission of Elizabeth Blackladder and her kind.

Christopher Croft

I enjoyed the exhibition, in particularly the earlier sections showing functional examples of the medium and its consequent development into a popular and institutionalised fine art medium. A huge subject of course and aside from the attractively-presented technical section, understandably British in the scope of it curatorial treatment. Nevertheless, many of the great and endearing themes were represented with inspirational examples. A third viewing is planned!

Richard Llewellyn

A very well put together, well balanced, and thoughtfully instructive exhibition. As a painter in watercolour myself, I found it an extremely enjoyable and helpful exhibition. Perhaps the final half of the final gallery was a bit "thin" and therefore a trifle disappointing. But all-in-all a triumph. Morgan Llewellyn (I'm always known to my friends as Morgan even though officially my first name is Richard. I paint under the name Morgan Llewellyn

Day Bowman

I was fortunate enough in visiting the WaterColour exhibition at Tate Britian the morning of the London Marathon which meant that many were out on the streets and not in galleries. This allowed me to get up-close and personal with wonderful works such as Turner's The Blue Rigi. I enjoyed the breadth of the work and the early history of the medium but somehow felt that the current practice was under-represented. I should have like to have seen more of Ian McKeever's work, for example.

Hilary Holt

I went with a friend.We were fascinated by what counts as a watercolour and we were surprised by the variety of effects that had been achieved. Neither of us noticed the glossary of terms that is in the back of the little exhibition handout until we got home, which was a pity. Unlike some of the commentators whose contributions I have read on this blog, I wasn't so keen on the modern paintings, but the only ones I would single out that I positively disliked were the trio by Tracey Emin, which looked like splashes from her bath. Overall it was an instructive experience for me. p.s. I loved the Melville picture.


Thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition although I had expected to see more contemporary work. I did gain much more understanding of this medium which will help me with my own work

Angela Birkin

I enjoyed my visit yesterday particularly the earlypieces and the 18th and 19th century watercolours. The room containing war artist work was very moving. Turner's watercolours were stunning but too little was made of Thomas Girtin. The contemporary work shown was weak compared to the other works in my opinion.

Gloria Holden

I really did find the watercolour exhibition fascinating and inspiring. It was great to follow the historical path of watercolour painting, including the illustrated maps, fabulous botanical paintings and atmospheric landscapes. I loved the artefacts on view such as Queen Victoria's painting satchel, Turner's palettes and even the 1950's child's painting set which really took me back to my childhood. My only criticism is that I found the leap into modern abstraction a bit sharp and random.....what about the likes of Elizabeth Blackadder, David Hockney, Norman Adams and John Bellany to name a few amazing contemporary British artists who have used watercolour so well. Examples of some of their work could have bridged the gap between figurative and abstract, providing greater continuity.

Mark Bunyan

By the third room I'd got increasingly annoyed that an exhibition called "Watercolour" hadn't told us anything whatsoever about watercolour. However, when the room explaining the technology and techniques was reached it was excellent -- and I fully accept that it was much more enjoyable to have been able to see the wide range of examples BEFORE being given the technology.

On a personal note, I was disappointed not to have seen any work by Betty Swanwick RA, one of the finest exponents of (visionary figurative) watercolour in the second half of the twentieth century.

deirdre mcardle

well I "got it " but 40 years ago ,so you see,it was not really "the final room" !

A Moores

I really enjoyed the watercolour exhibition - so many beautiful, intricate and inspiring works - until I reached the last room. I was baffled to see a plastic sheet, a spoon and a couple of twigs, all that seemed to have been collected up having been used by a domestic decorator to stir his paint and protect his furniture from paint splatters while he painted the ceiling! Is this really a good use of the valuable exhibition space? A few more Turners would have been much nicer!


I really enjoyed the show. I was enthralled by the colours, intricate detail, skill and subject matter of so many of the paintings. I hadn't appreciate how versatile and rich watercolour could be. There was something in every room to take my breath away. Reading other comments, yes I would have liked to see some Hockney, but during my visit I was completely absorbed. My only disappointment is that several of my favorite pictures were not included in the catalogue or available elsewhere, such as John Fullwood's "Three Stones", John Smart's "Portait of an unknown Man", David Austen's other paintings and Edward Burra's second "Wake". Can you help? I will certainly look to visit the exhibition again.


While it was interesting to view the scope of watercolour within the exhibition, I felt that this broad overview was slightly unsatisfactory. I would have liked to have seen a key theme, such as landscape developed in more depth and detail.


The exhibition surpassed even my highest expectations. For me it was liberating and completely inspiring. Congratulations on your selections. I didn't mind a bit that there was no Hockney because there were so many gems. In particular I was inspired by Jenny Franklin's 'Scorched Earth Regeneration' Walter Langley's 'But men must work and women must weep', all the war paintings, John Frederick Lewis 'Hhareem Life' for its detail and fabric effects and Anish Kapoor's untitled earth pva and gouache. I loved the Bean painting too.

The painting materials were of great interest and the subject of conversation.Overall an amazing exhibition which has had a very positive effect on me.


As I'm in the 2nd term of a course called Watercolours for the terrified I wasn't sure whether the exhibition would inspire me or scare me off completely. It has inspired me greatly. A marvelous collection of works and techniques. I was much more moved by the 18th & 19th century works than by some of the more modern works, but I am a huge fan of Turner so that may explain it.

Elaine Ward

This is such a wonderful, inspired exhibition. We were amazed at the range of works in watercolour. I would never have imagined such incredible detailing could be possible as particularly evidenced in the miniature portraits on vellum. It was also really interesting to read about and see the range of effects which can be achieved by varying the painting surface as well as the paint texture and composition and how some artists use a combination of techniques to get broad background cover and close-up precision.

Barbara Solomons

Dierdre should really get a life. Agree with all those who deplore the following - inclusion of Emin, almost total exclusion of Hockney, a nod to Cotman, not enough Turner and please why Sandra Blow and the pink plastic hammock to see us to the exit?

Adrian and Sophie

We both enjoyed the majority of the exhibits - in particular the room dedicated to the Natural World - but found it rather difficult to understand some of the more abstract works in the final room. Appreciate that it takes all sorts but the twigs, spoon and plastic sheet just did n't do anything for either of us. The artists involved will probably just accuse us of "not getting it" but it would be interesting to know find out many people, if being honest, actually did.

Roy Hutchings

My wife and I travelled down from North Yorkshire for the day just to see this exhibition. It was really worth every mile/penny and we both learned so much. Thank you Tate for the brilliant way that the exhibition was organised and we both thought that the tape commentary was really helpful. We left after two hours and more, exhausted but truly informed about so many aspects of watercolour. It is difficult to pick out a favourite but I have to say that I was amazed by the detail in the Nichols Hillyard, by the New Zealand Honeysuckle by Parkinson and other early works for their precision. Yet at the same time being overwhelmed by freedom of Turner notwithstanding the precision of the small birds at the bottom of the 'Blue Rigi'. Loved the Pre-Raphaelites. On a personal note the four paintings in the final room were really interesting. I taught at Mid-Herts College in Welwyn Garden City in the 1960's and knew of Patrick Heron but had never seen his watercolours. Similarly both my wife and I were taught by Howard Hogkin at Corsham but had not seen many watercolours either. Peter Lanyon was a friend of my tutor, James Tower and he and Terry Frost were visitors. A very special exhibition and thank you.

Brian Boothby

Could only afford a short visit but will go again because there is so much to enjoy and many exhibits from which to learn about composition and techniques. I particularly liked the paintings by EDWARD BURRA who was a favorite if mine as a student over 50 years ago.

Adrian and Sophie

Of course the last sentence should have said "The artists involved will probably just accuse us of "not getting it” but it would be interesting to find out how many people, if being honest, actually did.

john anderson

A really rubbish show totally misunderstanding the role of watercolour and displaying a lot of irrelevant and mediocre works

martin and paul...

A wonderful exhibition in the main. Had no idea such beautiful and fine detail work was possible with watercolour. Such a shame the show was spoilt with rubbish like the plastic sheet in the end room and the non-art of the Tracey Emin and similar. The audio was far too limited,covering too few of the paintings on display.

John Barnard

It is great that the Tate is able to attract large numbers of visitors with specialist exhibitions but in this case my companion and I agree with Richard Dorment - very good opening but then downhill and arrival into the 20th century resulted in almost total disappointment. Work by 'names' included because of the name, not the quality? Ms Emin's inclusion in last year's quilt exhibition comes to mind. But I agree with Mark Gilkes (19 February). Coral Reef in main gallery area well worth a visit.


Really enjoyed the way the rooms were set out thematically, with all the gorgeous old maps first off. Loved the Ruskin leaves and the Rachel Pedder-Smith legume specimens, also the wonderful convergence of techniques in the Macaque monkey painting (all brought even more to life by the excellent audio-guide). Agree with some of the comments about gouache - quite a lot of not-only-watercolour paintings here, but to some extent that varied the stimulus and made it more fun. Only piece I did not get, was the large acrylic by Sandra Blow. In what way does this justify inclusion in a watercolour exhibition?

deirdre mcardle

sorry Barbara but my life does consist largely of thinking about composition technique subject matter etc I was struck by the question someone asked on the difference in these things between oil and watercolour,but I do beg your pardon for thinking outloud!


I would love to post a comment about this wonderful exhibition but feel slightly intimidated by the nasty remarks I have read on here. Tate Britain, you should be editing and checking content on here, this comments page should be a personal reflection and constructive criticism on an art exhibition only.

deirdre mcardle

oh, blow it... look, there is obviously a huge schism between he "traditionalists " and the contemporary scene (but work like Karla Blacks has been a round for 40 years!) I thought maybe some of those issues could be addressed here,so shoot me ! I guess this schism reflects the one in society at large ? plus ca change or brave new world ? what's it to be. A line which draws a horizon is just a line, an enabling device to assist tonality, this does translate to modernism and ultimately even off the page, obviously what the Tate was going for.


We really enjoyed the variety displayed in this exhibition and my 9 year old son said it was really good and enjoyed listening to the audio descriptions. Seeing the diversity of watercolour was interesting. It is a beautiful medium and interesting in both the historical and mondern techniques and forms.

David Griffiths

Many thanks for a truely exciting exhibition. I am a keen promoter of the watercolour medium and therefore it was good to be able to see up close some of the real masters of art.

Louisa Brown

I much enjoyed the exhibition, which was very comprehensive, but after an hour I felt overwhelmed and although I hadn't nearly finished looking at everything I had to leave. I would have preferred a much smaller display. There were some wonderful gems such as the Turner blue Rigi and I was delighted to see that Edward Lear had created an excellent kangaroo. But there were also lots of very unremarkable watercolours, including a miserable Ruskin that disappointed me a great deal.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in creating the exhibition.

Mike McInnerney

Lovely to see some of the great visual poets of English painting brought out of storage.

Romantic odes to light by Samuel Palmer, the heated imaginings of Edward Burra and the lyrical rage of 'Wire' by Paul Nash.

A resounding argument for watercolour as a medium with a human touch and reminder of the physical properties of the world we inhabit in an increasing virtual existence.

D. Griffin

The last two rooms were splended.

Jenny Wright

It was difficult to give the works the attention they deserved as the show was very crowded. I was really pleased to see the extraordinary Charles Bell water colour, but as a research student would have welcomed more information about the work. I was also rather disappointed in the number and quality of contemporary artists work, perhaps more space should have been given over to them, rather than the works using acrylic which rather diluted the title of the show. I will try to get to the show again, as soon as the doors open so I can see more of the works in comfort.

Neal Vaughan

I am pleased that I visited Watercolour and will be doing so again. I also found it funny seeing my field watercolour set in the exhibition case, after using it to paint some of the work!

The highlights were the last few rooms and seeing Turner's watercolour work is always inspiring. However I feel that I would have wanted to see much more of the artists I know to be major watercolourists, such as Sargent.

I feel the exhibition was more of a historical showpiece rather than a serous look at the uses of watercolour. Too much space was given over to this more educational side, space that could have been used to really explore the expressive side of watercolour.

For this reason I would say this exhibition has something for everyone, but as an artist I have to say I left slightly underwhelmed. However I did enjoy sketching the Turners and this experience alone will live with me forever. So thank you for that!