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



I hope it is the beginning of a series of watercolour exhibitions. There are so many brilliant watercolour artists currently in Britain that surely an exhibition featuring just works of living artists like Simon Fletcher, Shirley Trevena and Ian Sidaway to name just a few would be equally worthwhle, and fully in the spirit of Turner.

Bill & Chri...

Interested to see the concern on here re other water based paint mediums like acrylics. They are simply modern version if water paints and the exhibition was called Water colour. Watercolours tend to bring in the shire contingent conservative and a tad obsessive with rural England. The exhibition was for us a mixed bag probably too much but gave a good overview of the uses and wide range of application of water colour bold contemporary to medical illustration to war images and the big names. We tend to favour modern uses and depiction favouring Turner, Heron, Innes. Crowded but that was to be expected

david richter

I went on Sunday with my imaginary friend and being a trained polecat. Always good to see Burra, amazing to see Richard Dadd, too many Hockneys. Marilyn Faithful needs to sweeten up, perhaps a Mars bar.

Linda Chapman

I went twice last Friday ... and could see the contrast between the gallery being full and pretty empty! Important as some of the exhibits are so small. The best part for me was the discovery of some of the stunning earlier artists, such as Alexander Marshal and Sarah Stone. Why wasn't Chris Ofili in there with the contemporaries? This is a far-reaching exhibition, opening up all sorts of areas of interest but I wasn't very convinced by the representation of contemporary artists. But I really enjoyed it and, coming from Norwich, have got 'Restless Times' here in the Castle as another part of the British Art Debate.

Marilyn Faithfull

I saw this exhibition yesterday with a friend and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. As a trained artist and sculptor, I had always found watercolour a difficult medium and found many examples of it too bland or 'precious' for my taste. This exhibition showed me how limited my perceptions were. In every room, there were paintings that took my breath away and inspired me to pick up my brushes and open my watercolour box once again. My only complaints were that, as mentioned by others, David Hockney was not included at all, that all rooms but the final one,were almost unbearably stuffy, and that, for us, there were too many paintings to take in at once. I would have preferred a smaller exhibition, followed by another at a later date.

Elizabeth Racki

I enjoyed the watercolours exhibition and was pleasantly surprised by its diversity. Some people need to peer very closely, it seems, but with a little patience I was able to view most of the works. I found the last room intriguing, especially the "pink plastic" which was the colour of satiny underwear and trussed up as so many of us women are, in various ways! It affected me on an emotional level and I am still thinking about it ...I also loved all the natural history paintings and admire the atention to detail. I bought a book on how to start. Who knows where that might lead? Thank you.

Kathy McAnulla

Surely the exhibition should have been titled 'GOUACHE..with a bit of watercolour thrown in!'I enjoyed the general idea and organisation of the theme of develoment of the medium through history, but the final room was one of the most lacklustre artistic experiences I have ever had. I had been expecting a finale demonstrating some of the wonderful luminous and transparent effects that can be acheived by modern watercolour artists but instead left the exhibition to the whir of long dead watercolour artists spinning in their graves at the dull daubs of the final room.


Very well curated- also the hanging was excellent. Thoroughly engrossing and delightful, until the last rooms.Pathetic and inept in comparison with what had gone before.

sue king

I visited the exhibition as the doors opened on Monday morning and that was a wonderful experience. As a total beginner now attending painting classes, I was amazed by the range of effects achieved by the medium and much encouraged that watercolours could be used in such diverse ways. Inspirational!

Hilary Sherwin-Smith

We visited the exhibition last Saturday. Neither of us paint, but felt we were well informed of the history & breadth of watercolour paintings. We really enjoyed the majority of the very skilled & beautiful examples on display, but disliked the final room. The contrast between the items displayed there & those we'd seen before was stark.Who are they trying to kid? It's like the Emperors new clothes!Most people rushed through here, whereas they took their time in the early rooms.

deirdre mcardle

"insight" into wot JR ?

Edgar Lake

Lovely exhibition, but why waste a whole wall on a dirty sheet of plastic hanging fronm two strings?

S Ratcliffe

Fabulous watercolours and enjoyed the exhibition so much .... Never knew watercolours could offer so much diversity. Burra - awesome. But the last room .... What's that about? Lots of emperor's new clothes: Sandra Blow, Tracy Emin et al with spoons stuck to walls? I've seen better on the Walls of a children's nursery. No wonder they're in a separate room ... It would be too embarrassing to hang them anywhere near the sheer beauty and skill of the preceding works (apart from Hodgkin, he can stay). Room with the war pictures was my favourite. Congrats to Tate though for encapsulating history, range and mastery in this exhibition (just brick up the last room)

Terence Dawson

I enjoyed the exhibition but it was not a revelation. That, for me in terms of watercolour, was the Glasgow Boys at the RA. So I was interested in the historical early works; the illuminated books, the miniatures were exquisite; the stunning Hilliard. Abstract art has always been, and is, a puzzle to me but I loved the juxterpositioning of the Turner studies. The Blue Rigi I wanted to take home! My taste is pretty middle of the road so most of my favourites have already been mentioned but must add; the beguiling Hhareem,the glorious Burnham Beeches,the charming and ammusing Singer Sargeant(The Miss? and Miss? Cant remember the title!)and the almost cubism of the Macintosh lancscape. Don't really want to end on a negative but I didn't like the audio guide.

sharon swaine

Inner Vision was by far the best room. This is where watercolour became free of imitating landscape. I also have a soft spot (nostalgic?) for the paint boxes.

Deirdre Stewart

This exhibition started well, but I was disappointed with the final two rooms. These could have been filled with fine examples of watercolours instead of pandering to such poor examples of bad taste. The exhibiton was not worth the money and effort involved in getting to see it.

Andrew Hudson

Very interesting to see a thematic exhibition like this. I liked the way it covered several centuries, including the present one, and had the equipment. The quality of the exhibits did vary considerably, however.

Jennifer Rogers

Thank you, Tate Britain, for displaying and juxtaposing such a range of artists over the centuries. The exhibition definitely deserves subsequent visits! I was very interested to see the use of other media with watercolour and what impact those paintings made; I'm glad the term watercolour was not translated in too 'precious' a way, as it sometimes can be - to its detriment. Of course, not everything of importance could be in the exhibition (I too bewail the lack of Hockney!), and I suppose the inclusion of such items as the 'pink plastic' and the painted spoon only made one more appreciative of the skill and insight in the works of Heron, Hodgkin and Blow.

Steve Lassman

The 'Watercolour' exhibition works well to demonstrate and emphasise the range and variety that is possible in the medium and the skills of the artists in their use of water colour paints.


I have been dabbling in watercolour myself for some years, but I had no idea that such a range of effects could be achieved in the way shown by your artists. The range of textures, detail , colour intensity , and the sheer physical sizes amazed me. A pity you had to include Tracy Emin alongside such real talent.

Western Independent

An excellent day recently at Tate Britain: Watercolour and Susan Hiller. Too long a piece to put here is on my blog at http://bit.ly/fT5ZKf Feb 11.

Member's Guest

I was disappointed by the Watercolour exhibition. Overall I felt that it was far short of what it was trumped up to be. Some of the work I enjoyed, like the work of Burra. Sandra Blow's painting 'Vivace' I thought was daring and bold. I think I was hoping to see so much more contemporary watercolour, instead of a great quantity of staid work of the past (small insiped paintings). On the other hand there were a few truly remarkable paitings like the one 'But Men Must Work and Women Weep'. I found Emin's paintings atrocious. I am glad that I didn't have to pay £14.00 to see this exhibition as I would have felt short-changed. (I was able to see it free as a member's guest.)

Charles Jones

I visited with my twelve-year-old grandson, mid-afternoon, and would have spent longer had I not sensed that he was tiring. I hope to return. My general impression was that the curator had gone a little too far in pushing the message that 'watercolours are more than you might think'. Yes, it's great to see the variety of possibilities and the desne dark tones that can be achieved (e.g. by Melville, whose three watercolours in the recent 'Glasgow Boys' exhibition impressed hugely. But I was surprised to find so little of the more delicate kind of twentieth-century watercolour. I found myself thinking, to take just one example, of Hugh Casson's little sketches. It seemed a little odd to avoid the typical rather than complement it.


To be honest I thought it was quite dull and it was so crowded I I left. Found susan hiller really powerful and thought provoking though


This show was not by someone who understands watercolour. Where were the wonderful 20th century exponents such as John Singer Sargent (just one picture), John Yardley, John Ward, Trevor Waugh, Pamela Kaye? Most of the pictures used watercolour in the tight, illustrative style - whereas nowadays the loose, expressive style is preferred. And usually without the help of gouache or acrylic or pen. After the exhibition I picked up London Sketchbook - now THERE were watercolours by a true artist, Graham Byfield.

kina avebury

I really enjoyed the Watercolour exhibition. I came away re-invigorated by the scope and diversity of the paintings. I especially appreciated the "side show" of materials but perhaps some more comment on the different techniques used by the artists would have thrown useful light. The exhibition certainly helped to dispel some of the patronising and dismissive attitudes to this medium. The section on war artists was extremely moving.

Mrs Renske Mann

To hang Tracy Emin's talentless daubs near JMW Turner's magnificent watercolours is an insult. I couldn't see the point of including Sandra Blow's acrylic painting and other contemporary works, while many 'greats' from the 'Golden Age of Watercolour', ie 1750s to 1850s, were under-represented. Despite these shortcomings, this was still a worthwhile and enjoyable exhibition, Edward Burra's monumental paintings being a revelation to me.

Paul and Hilary...

We enjoyed the show,in general,but felt a little underwhelmed. The reasons are difficult to define. Perhaps some of the excitement from some of the early watercolours had worn off by the time we had seen the modern/abstraction rooms. We see w/colours as things of beauty, the paintings needing to be delicate,defined and understandable. Like Vitoria Wilkinson's suggestion above, an example or 2 of someone like Elizabeth Blackadder would have added to the show.

michael sexton

We were slightly disappointed.Perhaps watercolour is too wide a subject to encapsulate in one exhibition.We are probably old fashioned liking Turner etc and not some of the modern items eg Tracy Emin which to us were meaningless and pretentious. The visit was nevertheless worthwhile(as it always is to Tate Britain).

Kathryn Booth

I loved the exhibition. The maps were fascinating, in fact the range of subject matter was exciting and stimulating. The inclusion of the paintboxes and various media was a splendid idea, it was especially good to see Turner and Whistler's. I welcomed the chance to see work that I have never seen before by artists I admire. I do agree that it would have been good to see David Hockney included - in my opinion Tracey Emin's work could easily have been excluded. I was very pleased to buy the collection of digital images - that is an excellent idea. I also bought the catalogue!

Andrew Bennett

Thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition but would have liked some expansion of the exhibits about technique in place of some of the works in the final gallery which were either NOT watercolours by any stretch of the imagination and/or simply ridiculous (eg the plastic spoon!). Agree too with previous comments that Hockney should have been represented.

Verrall Dunlop

For me it was sad that such an interesting exhibition, which opened with the exquisite work of watercolourists in the year 1500 and led one through centuries of beautifully executed examples of the genre should have ended with daubs which could have come from a primary school. Why were the fine artists such as the likes of David Hockney not represented in favour of painted twigs , splashed pieces of plastic and to me the final oddity a dirty spoon. It seemed as though the selectors were suffering from a bout of the "emperors new clothes" and were hoodwinked into thinking a plain piece of paper with a faint squiggle can represent art today when sharing exhibition galleries with the masters of the past. It isn't as though there aren't a multitude of watercolourists to chose from - professional and amateur - who are producing today pictures which will stand the test time as well as those from the 16th Century. I suppose the answer is that it has made me think and analyse my reactions to the exhibition which until the last room I enjoyed very much.

David Britton

I attended the exhibition with two colleagues. We all thought it was excellent, well put together and thoughtfully arranged. The section dealing with Materials and Techniques was a very good idea, initiating into the mystic arts, those unfamiliar with watercolour. As with all exhibitions, I tend to take my time and usually visit over three sessions, so as not to rush the last few rooms. I am looking forward to the next visit.


I'm not a member and after being very disappointed would not consider joining! The main galleries were indeed much better than the exhibition and they are free. I disagree with the request for more contemporary work - the modern exhibits were the worst part.

Graham Frear

Worth a visit for another chance to see Turner's masterly watercolours of Venice.

Sheila Burch

I really enjoyed this exhibition - the range of paintings and uses of the medium were, in many cases, eye opening, and I left with a degree of inspiration to improve my own efforts. I agree with the commentators who felt the " modern" room was something of a travesty ( a painted plastic spoon stuck on a piece of wood!!!) So, Tate Britain, there seem to be plenty of people who would love to come to an exhibition of Watercolour in the 20-th/21st Century. Get Planning!

Oh- and is deirdre mccardle a world famous artist I should have heard of before? Maybe she should be included in future exhibitions.

Chas Perrett

I think watercolour is a great medium but for me, it is at its best when it is not too laboured and although there were some very good individual pieces, I felt the exhibition overall lacked the spontaneity and verve that can be achieved with this material and though others may well disagree I found it rather bitty and and lacking in flow and continuity.

Again general information is useful but a lot of people are pretty knowledgeable about art these days, you do not have to go over the top trying to explain everything, if leaving a space or two, leaves someone having to do a bit of research for themselves so much the better., and can you please, please, tread a bit lighter on the Educational Pedal?

G Chaldezos

Thankful for Tate Britain's traditional and well presented show on Watercolour, especially at times of aridity in the Tate.


I really enjoyed the Watercolour exhibition yesterday, particularly the paint boxes of Turner and his watercolour sketches - gives you a real insight and feel as if you just happen to glance over his shoulder as he was painting.

I loved the minatures, the botanical paintings and the whole room of techniques through the ages very interesting.

I must agree with the other comments that I didn't really understand the last room, it felt like it had run out of steam, I think it would have been better to end it after the war room, it seems like there would have been alot more that could have been put in the last rooms. I just don't understand the fuss over Tracy Emin either?????

marguerite christmas

Not only did I enjoy the range of watercolours on show I was inspired enough to buy the book and come home to do additional research on many of the artists. What a treat! Thank you.

Catherine Lea

I agree, the details in some was stunning - Richard Dadd, phenomenal! must have brushes of one hair only to get those blades of grass, etc. Incredible - know the Fairy Fellas of course, but this was even more amazing. Also the Alfred Hunt, November Rainbow was stunning. I am afraid the Walter Langley really brought me to tears. I felt I was there in the room with them! amazing. Unusual to find that much emotion transmitted in a picture. The information in the glass cases was great too. I must admit I tend to think of watercolour as the medium of botanical prints, but the variety here was inspiring!

martin parker

What did I think of it? Not much to be honest. It is rather a bizzare decision to base an exhibition on the technology used. We don't care much about the technolgy - watercolour, oils, or rock, it is the artistic expression that we are interested in. So exhibitions around a particular artist or group of artists or style are much more interesting and coherent as an exhibition. (Pre-raphaelites might be a good theme for a future exhibition.) I am greatly looking forward to the John Martin exhibition later this year. Hope you will finally get some postcards and prints of his outstanding work produced. Also it was a bit too crowded. On a related note, you really need to do something about the members room at Tate Britain.It is far too small - a lot of members end up toughing it out in the main cafeteria as there are no seats available in the members room, and wondering if their membership is really worth it. It is also very drab and the food available is very limited and pretty bland. I had the worst scone I have ever tasted there yesterday; rock hard and tasted like corrugated cardboard. I really don't know how you can sell such stuff. The members room at Tate Modern is not perfect but it is far better than this. I am sure a much better Room will enable you to sell many more memberships.I know is not what we join for but it is big (or could be) a big added bonus and incentive to join.

martin parker

Parker you are illiterate. The last sentence should of course read 'I know this is not what we join for but it is (or could be) a big added bonus and incentive to join.' I think I have got it right this time. (we could do with an edit facility for people like me who are too lazy to proof read their own work before posting!)

margaret logan

I loved it, especially the botanical illustrations and the early watercolours + Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Patrick Heron.

jane keat

We thought it was a great exhibition - really enjoyed it and marvelled at the different styles of watercolour painting on show...I didn't know it was so versatile. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed some of the more contemporary pieces especially 'Vivace' and the Kapoor and Heron pieces. Wonderful.

Deirdre Robson

I really enjoyed the show - particularly a few works which were really inventive in their use of watercolour. Like others spent quite a bit of time trying to work out quite how some works e.g. Rebecca Salter were painted. However, the show suffered from the curse of survey shows - too much of some things (Burne-Jones in particular) and too little of others (Turner or Norwich School e.g. Cotman). If a large acrylic is going to be included, why not something more 'watercolourish' e.g. Richard Smith's 'Riverfall' or Morris Louis' 'Saraband'? But I guess you can never please all of the people all of the time ...

Matthew Duncan

I enjoyed the exhibition, but thought the last room rather poor, and some of the exhibits really shouldn't have been in a watercolour exhibition at all. The modern use of watercolour was poorly represented throughout the exhibition, and I thought that fashionable artists (such as Emin) who had made their mark in other materials were shoehorned in for the star factor,when they hadn't done anything really notable with watercolour at all.

Julia Matcham

Enjoyed the exhibition more than I expected to as I am fairly familiar with much of it a lot of which gets high marks for effort and skill but lower for creativity. Love the Burra landscape which I hadn't seen before and that fantastic Cotman market scene which I am happy to see over and over. As others have said the last room is...well... not saying much for contemporary artists! and again where were the Hockneys? On the whole very enjoyable.


The first 4 rooms were fascinating but then I felt the show rather lost its way. I accept it is all down to personal taste at the end of the day but I found nothing to linger over at all in the final 2 rooms. It also seemed that while valid to take a themed approach - maybe the themes could have been designed to better represent more of the wonderful watercolour work produced over the years - there was no place for many painters important in the history of the medium.


I visited the exhibition yesterday and I really enjoyed it having been a bit sceptical beforehand given some press coverage. The exhibition made my day in the room with the maps especially the estate map of Smallburgh as I particularly like maps and being from Norfolk, any images and paintings of the county, so I was also pleased to see a couple of Cotmans.

I also liked the minatures and early water colours and thought the exbition was good throughout in showing the development of water colours as an art in itself.

I found the section watercolours and war very powerful, whether it was the watercolours of Bura, the images showing the disfigurement of ordinary soldiers or the burning village in Bosnia.

The only disappoinment was the last rooom which I thought was a bit bare in comparison to the other rooms both in what it showed, and in terms of content, and I still wait to be overawed by Tracy Emin. But by that time I had already spent nearly an hour and a half in the exhibition.

I will come back and try the audio commentary next time