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


Margaret Robbie

I can only agree with a lot of the comments, both positive and negative. There were some wonderful surprises: the Edward Burra landscape, the glorious Arthur Melville of Venice, and the modern pieces in the last room but one (Anish Kapoor, Patrick Heron etc). We found the historical perspective fascinating, especially the tracing back to maps and were amazed at how modern the John Dunstall Pollard Oak looked. My husband who does not paint was most interested by the materials and techniques section and for me it was a joy to brushes used by Turner. However, I think overall we were slightly underwhelmed by the scope of exhibition and were especially disappointed at the final room which seemed to run out of steam. I will be taking the advice of another contributor and going to The Bankside Gallery to follow up further contemporary work.

Paul Nicholson

I enjoyed the earlier parts of this exhibition and loved the Rennie Mackintosh view, but found the contemporary stuff disappointing - some of it was not even watercolour in its true sense. Surely watercolour paint would not stick to the plastic bag thing in the final room... Having said that, she'll probably win the Turner Prize and he'll turn in his proverbial grave again.

Francis Glibbery

My partner and I went to see the show on Bank Holiday Monday. What a joy! Not too many people and a wonderfully informative, instructive and entertaining exhibition. Of course there were omissions. How could there not be!? But the images we saw were, almost without exception, exceptional in their own way. We loved the Lear and the Ruskin (the latter looking as if it might have been done - in part - with toothpaste!). The Turners in the last room were familiar but, yet again, served as signal examples of his genius and daring as an experimenter in this medium. Wonderful, too, to see them juxtaposed with other, more recent works. Congratulations to all involved - including the hanging team!

Eileen Hagger-Street

I loved the Watercolour exhibition as a whole, but best of all was seeing Turner's 'Blue Rigi' in Tate Britain, where it belongs with the Turner Collection.

Chris Yule

I thought the early work was really interesting, botanical was great, surely there could have been more Turner and Girtin, and more from the Glasgow Boys. For me the development room was of real interest, but some of the modern work was dreary formless and frankly when I looked at the four Leeds watercolours I wondered if the artist was still laughing all the way to the bank. What was an acrylic canvas doing in the last room, and why had someone not raided the Times watercolour competition winners for some exhibits...there was real skill in the use of the medium in this day and age.

David Crowley

I thought it - whats the right word? Enriching, perhaps. How do we get over the crush?

Lilian Schayek

I agree with Patric Parker. After an exhilarating tour of each room I felt very let down when I came to the last room where the exhibition ended not with a 'bang' but a 'whimper'. I felt to introduce wall hangings of a painted spoon,painted twigs and a crumpled painted piece of plastic denigrated the art work in the previous galleries.To my mind the only work in this gallery that followed the aims of the exhibition was Anish Kapoor's 'where water colour was used not to represent, but to draw attention to the medium,'where he incorporates earth and gouache .I cannot see how painting an object with watercolour paints and then hanging it qualifies for a place in the gallery as a medium for the water colourist.

Michael Graubart

This is one of the most intelligently selected and organized,and one of the most enjoyable and interesting, exhibitions I have been to for a very long time.

In exhibitions of work by a single artist or a coherent group of artists I usually prefer organization by date, but in this one the 'thematic' organization was so well done that it greatly added to the pleasure and instruction I got from the pictures.

It was interesting, too, to see paintings by people one knows better as writers, like Victor Hugo, Edward Lear and even John Ruskin.

I don't agree that there should have been more by the painters one one knows well as watercolourists, like Turner, beautiful though these are. It was discovering marvellous paintings by artists one rarely sees in galleries that was another pleasure of this exhibition.

Vivienne Lewin

I wasn't expecting to be very excited by this exhibition, and was pleasantly surprised by many and positively exhilarated by some of the pictures. Edward Burra's green mountains is stunning, and some of the modern ones in the last room are excellent, including the Peter Lanyon. What was that sheet of plastic doing there?

Andrew Maugham

I very much liked the underlying idea of this exhibition - to show the length and breadth of watercolur painting in this country, warts and all. It is always good to have another chance to see masterpieces like the Blue Rigi and White House at Chelsea. But I was also pleased by the surprises, particularly Burra who I never appreciated used watercolour as his medium. I have one question, though. Was the last room a true reflection of contemporary work being done in the UK? My overall impression is that it is really quite weak, especially when put in the context of earlier ages. The big exceptions (at least in my opinion) were Howard Hodgkin and Peter Doig. The rest I'd put back in store.

Francine Scialo...

well considered review.....all the curatorial difficulties highlighted

Thomas Hurley

I enjoyed the watercolour exhibition. There was an interesting development from early watercolour map illustrations, miniatures, botanical illustrations to painters of light, such as J.M.W Turner, Cozens and Thomas Girtin. I preferred the poetic pictorial landscape scenes when the subject light was being looked at in a more modernist way at that time.

Artists such as Turner and Cozen's painted what they felt about light. They looked within a landscape and observed where the tones, light and shadows were coming from to make feel as if you're actually in the place.

Having seen the watercolours that artists used over the years, this made me aware of the importance of outdoor sketching. The exhibition clearly showed how artists prepared themselves. When artists sketched outdoors depending on the year they had watercolour sets with all the necessary equipment, such as; brushes, palettes, paint tubes and water containers. This is a convenient methodological way of working. Artists in my opinion preferred to follow this tradition throughout the years.

There were watercolour paintings, which where a depiction of war scenes. I liked the Paul Nash watercolours. They are not pleasant scenes to look at, however they are personal. I felt Nash's anxiety, depression, which he felt during this time period through the dramatic paint handling. I'm a fan of Peter Doig's paintings and wasn't disappointed with his small watercolours. They were on a small scale I can immediately tell they were Doig's because of his pinkish use of colour and splattered mark making.

In the end room watercolour had more abstract paintings. I think these abstracts allow the viewer to look deep into the picture. These paintings can allow us to visualize what message the artist was trying to portray without too much content next to the picture. Colour and abstract forms creates feelings. I think red is a fierce and intense colour; this could represent the artists intensity through paint.

Virginia Tatlioglu

I found this an interesting exhibition and the thematic approach proved stimulating. It was refreshing not to have examples of the possibly expected, more familiar artists' work on view. Whilst I did feel there were certain works of art, in the last room in particular, whose inclusion in the exhibition did not seem to add any value, I recognise that others will disagree. No exhibition can completely satisfy everyone's taste or views. This exhibition certanly goes a long way in stimulating discussion and re-assessing one's perceptions of how 'watercolour' in its broadest forms as a medium has been or can be used.

Dave Yeates

I was astonished by the detail in some of the paintings, especially in the Intimate Knowledge room and The Natural World. My favourite picture at the exhibition was Aphrodite In Aulis by David Jones, an artist who I wasn't aware of previously. There is so much going on in this picture, and the suggestive colours add to the overall mysticism. I'm sure it's one of those pictures where you see something new every time you look. Walter Langley's But Men Must Work And Women Weep is absolutely phenomenal, he has captured extreme human emotion with extraordinary skill. And I loved some of the early book illustrations. Superb exhibition, thank you.

Angela Keam-George

Have just spent the morning using some of the "fun" techniques we saw at the exhibition yesterday! Our group has been painting together for several years and it's always good to get some more inspiration! I particularly loved the Burra landscape of Northumberland and the room about the war artists was moving. A very interesting collection - and informative too.

John Gamble

Hi out there in Art Land What a fantastic exhibition.The Watercolour @ Tate Britain. Such an insight to the depths you can explore and produce ideas through your own work.Diffentaly will be going again before the exhibition finishes! As a famous saying goes,Lets fill this country with Art. John.

Fiona Robinson

Having read the reviews which were not promising, I nearly didn't go to the show but did because I wanted to see Rebecca Salter's piece. Its velvety darkness did not disappoint. Callum Innes's two works were as usual beautifully quiet, yet demanded contemplation. In the early rooms I loved the coloured maps and the stylised landscapes, and the amazingly thin brushstrokes on the macaque, I am sure, predictably everyones' favourite. I was pleased to see the Charles Rennie Mackintosh too but a pity there was only one since his work is so distinctive and original. That powerful big Sandra Blow and the Roger Hilton enlivened the room in which they were hung but their justification as 'watercolour' was a little tenuous especially the Blow. The three postcards by Tracy Emin were disappointing and I was surprised that Hockney was omitted. I don't think I would revisit the show but I think it is fantastic that it is creating such a lot of comment and interest which is what all this should be about. I moved on to the Susan Hiller exhibition upstairs which to honest I found much more stimulating, challenging and with enormous food for thought. And I bought the Hiller catalogue which is fascinating and informative.

Ann Cronin

Enjoyed it v. much and need to visit again, as only got halfway as I found so many works to examine in detail that I had only seen in print before. Made notes of techniques to try out in my own works. When I was making sketch notes, other visitors became interested as to why I was making them. This led to further discussions on how practising artists use exhibitions,to extend their practice. I am a friend of the Tate. How about having volunteer artists in each room, like the National Trust volunteers in their houses?

Heather Willis

My companion and I visited the exhibition yesterday on our annual trip to London from Shropshire and were thrilled by how well it had been put together - full of variety and interest. We rather wished the last room had been more inspirational for us, but were fascinated by the 4 Turners which showed how he experimented. Only one Girtin sadly, but other unknown paintings to us made up for it. The exquisite one of the seeds was a real highlight. (sorry I too have fogotten the name of the artist)

Khosrow Elm

Any reason to why there were no Russell Flint work on display? Disappointing.

Elizabeth Oughton

I very much enjoyed the show as a tantalising overview and in particular found the war section very powerful. For me it functioned as a 'taster menu' which will send me off looking for more of the watercolour work of some of the artists. I loved Peter Lanyon's Coast which shows how watercolour can be used to exciting effect in depicting landscape. Of course, Turner is just plain sublime.

Richard Davidson

The idea of the exhibition was good - and to some extent it carried out its stated aims. However it ended up in a real muddle with "bits and pieces" of contemporary art presumably designed to 'attract a wider audience'. The inclusion of an acrylic painting (far more similar to the conventional use of oil paint than demonstrating the aqueous characteristic of some acrylic painting)by Neil tate and the totally inconsequential scraps by Tracey Emin seemed only designed to show how "cutting edge" Tate Britain can be. They contributed nothing to an exploration of the uses and possibilities of watercolour.

Richard Davidson

A further thought. It was wonderful to see the inclusion of a painting by Walter langley, the Newlyn School artist. I feel he is one of the least recognised masters of the watercolour medium and it is frustratingly rare to see his work in major exhibitions.

deirdre mcardle

I beg your pardon Sheila Burch if I have annoyed you, do not be upset I meant you no harm! modernism means you no harm! Peace!

Brian Oswald

I loved the exhibition, especially the John Piper, Uwe Witterer and Peter Doig paintings. I had never heard of Witterer before, so his painting was a real eye opener. The real challenge in such an exhibition is what to include and what not to include: I was surprised that at least one of Henry Moore's Shelter Drawings were not there - he did use watercolour you know and was a war artist. I would liked to have seen a little less of Tracey Emin's works.

marianne Ryan

Loved the show - the breadth and depth, in particular the contemporary stuff. But question the inclusion of several paintings, and regret the lack of a completely comprehensive catalogue illustrating every item. Will certainly go back several times before it closes.

Stephen Lewin T...

Always good to have the boundaries of one's expectations pushed back by the alternative view of the curator and her definition of terms. However, I'm not sure whether the mixed media and the frequent use of acrylics actually justified themselves. The Andy Goldsworthy proved how wonderful results can follow adventure and risk taking, but the final 3D piece - what a sad note upon which to end! As a celebration of the acuity of vision of most of the artists represented and the precision and delicacy of the watercolourist's technique in enabling us to share in that vision this exhibition (for the most part)carries conviction and generosity of spirit. A modicum of a sense of humour and the absurd would not have come amiss in the last rooms after the war paintings, but unfortunately as with the RA exhibition on British Sculpture there is a dire declension in quality as one approaches the contemporary scene.

deirdre mcardle

vision ?

Mike Starke

My wife and I found Watercolour informative, intriguing, mostly pleasurable and partly challenging. Just what we expect from our regular Tate visits.

By all means strive for the perfection so many of your bloggers seem to crave, but please never achieve that state of artistic apotheosis; otherwise we might just as well stay at home watching daytime TV, or an endless loop of Julie Andrews's cinematic oeuvre.

Bill Carlson

Overall disappointing. Too much "..and gouache." Would have liked more Turner and Sargent.Didn't need the dried twigs or plastic sheet.The history of the practilities and development of watercolour is interesting. A good exhibition with "traditional" wastercolours and no Emin, Kapoor,(or Hockney) could be more worthwhile.Don't forget there is a Tate Modern. However, could the Exhibition go on tour?

Sally Lowe

One of the joys of being a Tate member is that you can just pop in for a short visit. And that's what my watercolour visit was. The individual pieces had much greater depth and texture than I had imagined possible from watercolour. I'll visit again.

Monica Savage

The Watercolour Exhitition shows the diversity of Watercolours which I enjoyed enormously I particularly enjoyed the least modern of the paintings. The exhibit showing the use of watercolour as a medium was most informative. However the last room was a bit pointless. I will encourage others to visit Tate Britain during this Exhibition.

mike lambert

Went with high hopes but found the exhibition increasingly underwhelming as I moved through the rooms. Anyone interested in contemporay watercolour should visit the Royal Watercolour Society exhibition at the Bankside gallery (next to Tate Modern)

Angela Abell

We thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition even if some pieces weren't to our taste. I learnt a lot and will follow up some of the artists and their techniques. Surely if an exhibition stimulates the imagination and motivates individuals to learn more it has done its job. Yes, more Turners would have been nice but they can be, and are, viewed in other settings. This exhibition places the work of various artists in the context of the devlopment of watercolour. And it was great to see such a range of techniques.

Huw and Jones

There was much to enjoy in a fine show. I remember Cotman's 'Norwich Market Place', the osprey in the scientific illustrations, Ravilious' 'Vale of the White Horse', Piper's rocks, Nash, Turner. Of the moderns, I liked Peter Doig's washed out rainy scenes. The revelation was Walter Langley's 'But men must work and women must weep'. This majestic work has the layout and textural quality of a Vermeer from the kink of the carpet to the old woman's hair, showing sentiment without being over sentimental like some of his work.

Mary Hayes

It had good scope but I had personally hoped that it would have included much more contemporary watercolour - the Heron & Blow are stunning, the Kapoor fascinating - more modern work please!!

Flora Alexander

I thought the exhibition was brilliant. In spite of having read reviews, I was still surprised to see how intensely varied watercolour work can be. There were many artists there who I never suspected had used watercolour, so I learned a lot, as well as having the sheer pleasure of looking at the pictures. And it was well laid out and explained.

Roger Handley

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, except the last gallery, which I thought positively horrible. I am not a supporter in any way of abstract art, and didn't like it one bit'

Michael Horan

I'm VERY glad I pre-booked because if I'd had to stand for ages in that HUGE queue and then had to try to see the paintings in the too-crowded galleries, I would have been even more miserable than I was. I'm sure the exhibition is wonderful, but I couldn't see much of it. If you like the idea of spending time looking in detail at paintings, think twice about going. If you don't like crowds, don't go.

Michael Horan

I should have added that the final room was almost empty of visitors, maybe because the majority weren't as interested in this gallery as in the others, but it did at least give me chance to look at a few works without getting in the way of hundreds of other people. It very nearly made up for the misery of the other rooms.

deirdre mcardle

well that's that then RH. eh ,most people since 1909 must be mad ? Goodness me whatever can be going on in the world! If you were to block out the teeny weeny trees or ships say in a Constable the sky and sea/land would pretty much join up on the same plane (sorry Sheila!) and you would get something not that far removed from a Howard Hodgkin, you oldies but goldies cannot hold the world to r ansom for the sake of a trick of the eye!


I attended a very crowded gallery which indicates how popular this medium is to many people. The show has been arranged to educat explain & hopefully stimulate peoples' interest in thisw medium. The complaints about overcrowding are futile every exhibition needs its suppoters. It was a treat to see "ordinary painting" displayed in such large numbers for an exhibition.

John Barnard

Purely out of interest, were you locked in a white room in 1969? Many thanks for your lively inputs to this blog.


Too busy, way too busy. Impossible to see the work, impossible to move around, impossible to enjoy the exhibition. Such a shame. I will return and hope to be able to take it all in then.

I accept the view that this exhibition needs its supporters but surely the Tate can control the numbers slightly better.

Caro Paten

Perhaps the title 'Watercolours' is misleading - instead there were so many exhibits that just included watercolour paint along with gouache, acrylic etc that the purists would define them as not true Watercolour paintings! That goes for the plastic sheet that included shampoo and vaseline! Lastly, to represent Turner with a few scrappy pages out of his sketch book instead of any of his sensational watercolour paintings seems a crime... BTW for the people who've moaned about the crowded show - it's half term, guys. What do you expect?

Judy Ryland

In spite of noting some adverse comment (in DT) I loved it. It is one of the best organised exhibitions I have seen - the clarity of the genres in the different rooms cleared up the mess that is often in my head, and I appreciate the big- print catalogues, which meant I didn't have to keep changing specs! (I am over 80) Also it is not too overwhelming in size, with each room quite containable in a single thought-process, and the whole exhibition can be viewed before you are begin suffering from mental and visual indigestion.

BUT I will never accept Tracy Emin. How long will she go on pulling the wool over eyes that ought to be more discerning?

Katherine Midgley

I really enjoyed the entire exhibition. It was just the right size and I liked the way that one room flowed into the next. I also liked the variety, particularly as I visited the exhibition with my parents, who have vastly differing opinions on art. I especially liked the Turner sketches in the last room. Thank you for a very enjoyable few hours.

Robert Lobley

A fascinating exhibition that starts very well. I think the curator lost the drift in the final rooms wasting valuable space on work that can not be described as watercolour, which is a shame as some fine painters are poorly represented or completely ignored. Well worth visiting to see some wonderful watercolours and some interesting historical notes but the modern section is both fascicle and dismal.

Sue Kendrick

Monet may have seen Turner's work but was aged 11 when Turner died. Many of his works would however have been an inspiration. Where would Monet have seen them? The National Gallery was open but no Tate..

N Scott

I visited yesterday-a fantastic exhibition,so good to see such a wide range of artists.The Exploring the Medium room was very interesting,explaining different techniques.I will definitely be back to have another look & will bring my son-who I think will find it helpful in his understanding of art at school.