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


Sheila Cohen

I enjoyed the exhibition and was interested to see unknown (to me) artists Edna Clark Hall and Richard Hilton. However,living in Suffolk, I know about the Norwich School which was under-represented and, being Scottish, I adore and revere the Glasgow Boys: you had only ONE Arthur Melville, beautiful,but he has done many other glorious to-die-for water-colours !


Raachel Pedder-Smith is my art teacher. Her painting was 'The Bean Painting'.

W Myers

Interesting to see a survey of watercolour beyond the usual English landscape tradition. Shows what a strong and versatile medium it can be.The War work was extraordinary, Burra etc. powerful. The contemporary minimalist work seems to me a waste of wall space. Tracey Emin shouldn't be in the same gallery as Girtin, Blake and Turner. I can never see Girtin's Rue St Denis enough!

John Byford

Mostly the exhibition was good; enjoyed the earlier rooms in particular but the last room was a major disappointment. While the Turners were fun - even if you've seen them before - Tracey Emin and Karla Black took up room that should have been David Hockney's, a criminal omission. Good to see Ravilious and Nash and Palmer - and from an earlier time Girtin.

Penny Wiles

I went knowing I like watercolours, they don't frighten or overwhelm me like some big and imposing exhibitions. When a painter gets one right, it makes me breathe in hard because I just want to inhale the painting. Maybe it's because my generation all had a paintbox as a child that I feel a real ownership of the medium, it is so easy to respond to. There were at least a dozen pictures that could make me cry, quite easily. Every time I see a Samuel Cooper I want to say a personal "thank you" to whoever put it in my way, I'm breathing in as I write this, and that's just from memory. I wasn't able to appreciate some of the newer things, but I approached them hopefully and will try again, because I know they are in good company.

Chris Weallans

An exhibition called "Watercolour” can do little more than brush a surface with colour and light. This it did with verve and joy. Of course omissions and exceptions were bound to occur and many visitors would be drawn to some styles while rejecting others out of hand.

I was reminded of Maurice Denis's Observation

"Remember that a painting - before it is a battle horse, a nude model, or some anecdote - is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.”

Every painting held its own sensual experience. There was the electric precision of illustration and the impenetrable vagueness of abstraction and all the intermediate adventures of colour on surfaces.

I could, like others, nit pick at the fabric until the joy is lost in shreds (too much Singer Sargent, a modest, pedestrian, example of Whistler, a strange location for Anish Kapoor and so forth) but did I leave the exhibition befuddled with the intoxicated exuberance of a satisfied lover?


P Lowndes

I am not an artist and was astonished at the range of effects that can be created by watercolours. It was extrememly helpful to have the technical explanations of what techniques can be used. I may even get out my old paintbox and have a go myself. I liked the range of styles portrayed. I will be going again to look at some of the pictures in more detail.

muller casalegn...

I visited with my sister - we learnt a lot about the history and evolution of the techniques - we really enjoyed it!

Mark Russell

I absolutely loved the show, from those weird and wonderful maps and the pollarded oak at the beginning through to the crazy abstract tent like canvas at the end. The section explaining some of the technical aspects worked really well and inspired me to pick up the brush again. Putting the Turner watercolours alongside the modern in the last room was inspired and inspiring...Thankyou !

Peter Wyeth

A great range with some unexpectedly exquisite examples - all the leaves of a pre-raphaelite tree - but I am a fan of Cotman and his sensual landscapes were sadly missing - the big townscape for me was atypical and dull whereas the way he bleeds liquid colour into paper in the landscapes is thrilling in being both an abstract delight and an essential part of a concrete representation of a place. I will visit again.

Barry Hawkes

Superb exhibition. Went round with the audio guide. It was like having a knowledgable friend.Quite a lot to take in first time round. I will return. I did not realise what a versatle medium watercolour was.Early British, surveying, map making and war were particularly interesting.War being most moving, making me realise how lucky we were. The section on 'exploring the medium' and the last exhibit on girls' clothing were beyond me. Perhaps on my second visit I will do better.On another matter, the mambers' room is terrible. Like a 1950s British Rail waiting room. No seats were available. The Tate could do better here.

Dawn Clarke

I enjoyed this exhibition. I know I will be going back to take another look at the works on show. It was a delight to see. I liked the show starting with work from the 1200's. Watercolour must be one of the oldest mediums, just like charcoal. I had the priviledge of seeing some very old watercolours in the British Museum in the exhibition, 'Ancient Egyptian, Book of the Dead. Some of the work there was 1000bc. Just shows watercolour is an ancient medium. Saying this, it is also a very contemporary medium. However like many of the others I also felt let down by the contemporary room. I share the comments of many other bloggers on this. I was happy to see the work included was not limited to the traditional idea of the paint just being pigment, gum arabic and water. I like the idea that watercolour is more than this. Looking to it's history that leads on to contemporary work confirms this(from early manuscripts to Kapoor). It is a diverse medium open to great exploration. So I like the idea of it being seen as a painting medium made from a pigment, binder with water(of course other ingredients can be added).So I welcome the inclusion of acrylic, tempra, ink extra. I enjoyed Hayley Tompkins work with the twigs. It made me wonder if early BC artists may have done something similar. I would like to say I really enjoyed the work of Burra. Was humoured with the Angliae Figura 1534-46, and of course impressed. I was thrilled to look at the map with reference to my own home(Northern Ireland, outside Carrickfergus)and, the depiction of the lakes and rivers. How perception changes! So thanks for a show I enjoyed.

Jude Wild

I enjoyed the exhibition and learned a lot, but would have liked to have seen more contemporary examples of imaginative/abstract work.

Stephen Duckworth

I enjoyed the exhibition, despite the crowds, and great to see a few Burras. But why show a rather pathetic wallaby from Edward Lear when he has painted many far more splendid parrots - and it's his bicentenary next year ?


Like many others have indicated, I thought the exhibition included works not covered by the title. Acrylics are water based not water colour but can be used like watercolour; however not on canvas. No water based oils though! Someone has mentioned the watercolours at the Glasgow Boys exhibition which were amazing. It was an interesting exhibition with some very good examples, but the final section did not really reflect what is happening today with the medium. I was surprised how busy it was and glad I can go back and see it again when it is hopefully less crowded.

Julia London

Thought it was a bit curate's egg-ish, which is understandable as the central theme is simply a medium, rather than a movement, but could have done with A LOT more information/contextualisation alongside some of the works. Normally the guide gives you something on each room, perhaps picking out a particular work - this time there was nothing on the walls, and nothing in the book, which I found frustrating, as there was no context in which to understand a painted spoon except that it had watercolour attached to it. Overall OK I suppose, due to some interesting highlights - but a lot less interesting stuff than dull, bucolic wishy washyness, which is an impression I imagine this exhibition was attempting to dispel.

John Bowis

Enjoyable exhibition (until the last room) if rather 'a little of everything' and an unusually thin headphone guide. I should have liked to know more about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Victor Hugo as watercolourists and perhaps fuller written descriptions of the backgrounds of paintings that were mentioned in neither the headphone guide not the introductory booklet.


Thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition. Accessible and informative. Will spread the word.

Themis Halvantz...

I went to the exhibition on Saturday 5/3/2011. I enjoyed it very much and appreciated the "historical" combined with the thematical approach to the exhibits. I was a bit disappointed though in the lack of information for the exhibits. Apart from the name or artist, date and donator/ colelction details there was nothing else.

peter fordham

Perhaps I am an art dinosaur who wallows in the enriched heritage of our forefathers and their tools of the trade, although as I journey through the centuries I appreciate the common threads that bind together the rich tapestry of expression and materials which define this exhibition. But the works of Karia Black and Hayley Tompkins leave a sense of anti-climax and wonder at the pretentious nonsense expressed in the catalogue that, for example, describes Tompkins 'Day Series' work carrying a dream like quality. I am sorry but elements of the final room do not do justice to the medium and if they are there to provoke and promote our vision then perhaps it is time to seek refuge and solace at the Natural History Museum!

Zaki Elia

A big disappointment. Muddle headed show,torn between the medium, the history and the Art. The medium was treated in half a room the content of which would have been more valuable to Pigment providers. Amateur painters would have learned much more from a well edited book.It felt more like an exercise in fetishism. The history starts in a quite encouraging first room in which watercolor was presented as a precise information tool, not necessarily an Art making medium. We are led from maps through to scientific illustrations, all laudable but then we somehow move into an excess of orientalist Victoriana drowning the marvelous Turners... with no insight into what made Turner do the marvels he did, and i mean beyond the portability of the medium, did he see some Chinese watercolors? the age of Chinoisery was not too far behind... It would have been interesting to see the medium in the context of Britain and the world influences. Indian picture making was revolutionized by the introduction of watercolor during the Raj. Alas that was not to be. The Contemporary Watercolor Art on show did not do justice to the medium either. apart from the piece of Goldworthy. in short a parochial show, Tate Britain should be about Britain in the world and not about that little island in the north western corner of Europe. A missed opportunity.

Carole Ashton

I was impressed and loved the first three room, looking at watercolour as the first medium used to illustrate books, draw maps and botanical illustration. I also liked the room showing different techniques, paper and personal watercolour palettes/paints. I did not agree with the comment wanting non British watercolourists - keep it simple. I did not like the abstract room as it is not taste and I can go to Tate Modern for those. Well done Tate Britian.

Liz Charsley-Jory

I'd agree with some of the posts I read, that omitting Hockney was unfortunate, especially as he made such a study of the medium, having overlooked it previously as a "Sunday Painters" medium, much as the earlier oil painters did. I liked the section displaying the process and pigments of watercolours, wasn't that impressed with many of the "cutting edge"contemporaries. And I loved the pre-Raphaelites, even if I've seen them all before.

Mike Hyde

Had to drag myself out in the cold miserable weather on Saturday but oh so glad I did. Wonderful to follow the evolution over such a long period, and a great reminder of the portability and speed of execution of watercolour.Loved the section on techniques and materials. A bit more comment on working with water would have been helpful- for me it's the key to the end result.

Turner was the high point. Couldn't get enough so went round to the 'romantics' gallery for another dose.

Well done.

Chris Middleton

I very much enjoyed the Watercolour exhibition. I was very interested to see the beginnings of it such as cartography. The variations of the medium were also interesting and the presentation of the techniques was interesting for those who do not paint. Old and modern it was a good and inspiring show.

Sheelagh Leighton

I arrived at 10am, so managed to have a really quiet and long look at the exhibits. I enjoyed the history of watercolour, although, I already knew most of it having been an amateur artists for a number of years. It was so moving to see Turner's actual watercolour boxes. Maybe a few more Turners and Cotmans could have been included. The maps were interesting, and the miniatures outstanding. However, I progressed through the outstanding botanical paintings, into the last room, I was very disappointed. No Hockneys, and what about Elizabeth Blackadder. I hated leaving with that awful plastic apparition staring me in the face. WHY?

Leni Gillman

I visited with my husband last Thursday, and we both enjoyed the show very much. Very interesting to see the development and utility of watercolour painting over the centuries and how it became an art form in its own right. All the physical displays of materials were fascinating. Some of the information panels were a bit patronising, and could have been written in a more accessible style.

But it was great to see so many wonderful pieces from Burra, Turner, Cotman, Ravilious and Nash. In fact too many to name. But the last room was very disappointing, especially with the omission of the great Hockney. It felt as though the modern artists displayed there simply didn't know how to use watercolours at all. The plastic sheet drooping from the ceiling at the end was insulting, and hard to see why it was included in the show. It was more of a whimper than a bang.


Really enjoyed the exhibition! Some surprises include the range of subject matter and artist. Very well curated.

Kerry Dadson

As a student (mature, I hasten to add,I tend to agree with Nigel Jackson with

Kerry Dadson

As a mature student of Water Colour Painting,I tend to agree with Nigel Jacksons comments (28th Feb.), but would add, that I have gained extensive knowledge of the use of water colours, and would certainly recommend the Exhibition to friends and colleagues. But the plastic sheet at the end,-----------?

Lizzy Hones

Really enjoyed the exhibition. The opportunity to view rare manuscripts from the British Library was fantastic. The last two rooms were disappointing after the quality of the previous. It would be nice to see pictures outside the Tate collection. There was little representation of the Lakes or their painters. It would of been nice to see dramatic landscapes.

Mary MacCarthy

I took a friend,also a painter. We loved it, peering at the brushstrokes, and depth of colour. The maps were wonderful, the war section fascinating, admired the huge watercolours. Agreed with so many about the last room. A missed opportunity to include more modern painters, Mary Fedden, D Hockney, Mary Newcombe etc. Have another exhibition. I will go again.

Christine Backhouse

What a delight...Excellent audio guide to accompany the works on display. Particularly enjoyed the display relating to the various techniques of watercolouring which helped to relate the two together. Not sure of the relevance of the 3D plastic sheet at the end of the exhibition which seemed to be a bit trivial given the overall context of the exhibtion. Thoroughly recommend it to others..

Peter MacGowan

Fabulous from the word "Go!" ... too much to single-out, though the Hilliard portrait of George Clifford (what a dandy! what detail! and all in *watercolour*!) was a gorgeous tie-in with my Cumbria-based research into his redoubtable daughter. Too much to do justice to in one visit, we will be back.


What a great idea - a much maligned medium as the theme for an exhibition! I arrived ready to blow away those dusty ideas about watercolour limited to Victorian gentlefolk, war painters and nature illustrators. I was eager to learn something about new techniques of contemporary watercolourists and the real differences between watercolour, gouache and acrylics... What a disappointment! It felt like a show cobbled together from the archives, half-hearted underfunded and badly curated. Shallow, random links - and in the contemporary works, mostly missed the point (which was watercolour, right?). The audio guide I hoped would reveal what was going on below the surface. No, the experts were content to describe what I was looking at...In the end, only the book of the show gave any shreds of useful information. Thank goodness for Turner, Patrick Heron, Anish Kapoor...and umm David Hockney, Marc Quinn, Chris Ofili,etc. etc. Can we have a followup of NEW watercolourists maybe? there is such a lot out there...


While we enjoyed Watercolours, some artists seemed missing while the entitlement of some exhibits is questionable in my opinion. Other commentators named some of the missing artists; I am adding Allen Jones (RA) to the list of those sadly missed.

Ernest Gray

Both my friend and I enjoyed the exibition very much and were impressed by the tremendous variety of colours most interesting was to see watercolour when used with other media.The most surprising thing for both of us was the large watercolours as big as large oil or acrylic paintings and watercolour on board.A very interesting and enjoyable day


Dear Anna, I did enjoy the Turner,the Girton and the Burra wathercolours, but my wife and I were disappointed with the exhibition as a whole. I thought it covered too many aspects of watercolour to hold my interest. I have visited many art exhibitions throuout my life, and I have to say this is the first public art exhibition to disappoint me, even though it was well hung and well lit. Lawrence.

Carol Postlethwaite

I echo the responses of many - the last 2 rooms for me were highly unsatisfactory particularly as juxtaposed against the glorious detail and imagination of the preRaphs and the war paintings. Yes this reflects a difference in personal taste but there are so many new watercolourists with mature and alternative techniques that should have been showcased rather than the 'spoons' 'plastic baggery' and Emin's doodles.

Charis Weller

There is a great deal of good stuff in this exhibition but I agree with the negative comments on some of the exhibits in the last room. I feel the curators missed an opportunity here. Where were the works by contemporary, committed watercolourists?

Katie Faulkner

I thought the exhibition was an original and thoughtful take on the medium of watercolour, which successful tackled the issues of function, process and form.

The Burne-Jones paintings were the highlight for me.

Hugh Williams

The exhibition was extensive comprehensive and informative, showing the process as well as some of the finest examples of watercolour down through the ages. Most enjoyable and instructive. Thank you

Thierry Levenq

Its a great exhibition! It sheds very interesting light on watercolours


MOAN OF THE DAY: £20 train fare, £14 to get in had I not been a member £5 to get to Tate Modern by boat, £5 for one drink and a light snack, £1 for a map $3.50 for some postcards and before you know it thats almost £50 gone which to me is a days wages! The only thing I was annoyed about was the £1 for the map and that non members were paying £14, I sincerely hope this will not be the Tate's new price range for exhibitions, might I remind you we also pay tax and lottery duties which you also get too!!! Art should not be about who can afford it! Keep your prices a bit more realistic please.

John Gearing

...and then there was the final room! Looking at some of the examples exhibited in that last room I found myself irritated and quite angry...and since calming down I find that I may be inspired to try to emulate the contemporary "artists" who are laughing all the way to the Mill(Bank). I have ideas dammit! I can rip three paintstrokes from the depths of my soul and call the result; "Untitled". I can put together a whole collection of pieces left out in the rain and hung out to dry on my whirligig washing-line and call the entire collection...er..."Untitled". I've seen Tony Hancock's film "The Rebel"...watch out Trace! You've got competition! There are some amazing pieces of work in this exhibition. Some great works that I found moving...and I don't mean the plastic sheet...and...well...it was food for the spirit. Thank you.

Frances Williams

I thought the exhibition set out what it said it would do "To explore what watercolour can achieve in terms of techniqu and expression". From watercolour being used to record in the map and botanical works through to the expressionist work of Anish Kapoor I was engaged throughout. The materials and technique room was excellent in display and added to our understanding and enjoyment. The thematic approach worked well here in assiting our comprehension of the more linear techique through to the wide range of colour and the freedom of the more expressionist works. A great exhibition.


Down in London from Manchester at the weekend to see Watercolour and Susan Hiller, and also British Sculpture at the RA. First abit of a rant - I sometimes feel that the audio guides, though probably wonderful for the users, produce incredibly rude and thoughtless behaviour in the users, and even more so when an exhibition is crowded. People lose their sense of others around them, trying to read the caption or get a view of the work, and become obstructive and "road hoggish". They lose spatial awareness and blunder about blindly. When in a crowd we really need to use all our senses and to have one taken up with equipment results in insensitive and selfish behaviour. What is the answer? Loud instructions on the audio guides to watch out for other pedestrians?! Some audio guide-free sessions?

I loved the war paintings - use of watercolour at its horrific and haunting best - Bura and Sutherland and Nash are extraordinary. I also loved the four modern watercolurs in the equipment room, observing in symmetry from the four walls. Thank you, thank you for including one of the best modern watercolorists, Peter Doig.


A very good experience.stimulating to see thw whole historical context and the development and vaired uses... The catalogue was interesting, the examples excellent and varied and the explanation of how the medium works was also good.It would have been wonderful to have more examples of the greats,the war room was interesting but why 4 Barra and so few Turners etc. details..the pictures at the back of the glass cases with artists materials in were too far away for me to see details properly, I agree with other posts that the last room was much less successful and made less sense.It would have been good to have an example of the portfolio/browing methods that were used to look at watercolours before they were exhibited on walls, alo some examples of artists notebooks etc ( ag Ann bridges) who use watercolours routinely for " studies and works in progress".

Geoffrey Brown

I was impressed by the range of exhibits: I had been unaware that watercolour started so early, and it was also good to have some very recent examples of its use. I particularly liked the miniatures - which I had always assumed would invariably be oils. The exhibits about techniques were very helpful. One (very minor) downside: I thought the selection of postcards was rather limited and uninspired - but you can't please everyone!

John Reed

I have looked at Turner's Blue Rigi before, but never really seen it - subtle, glowing and three-dimensional. What a difference a bit of light makes! I liked this show's historical approach and for me there were surprises such as the Singer-Sargent and Parkes-Bonnington that I knew only for their oils.

Show-Biz has to be represented, of course, by Emin and Kapoor here; I must have missed the Hirst. I was drawn to the Hodgkin paintings, which illustrate a problem. His watercolours are bright, solid and bold, but they look so like prints of his oils, i.e. copies drained of life. Watercolour excels at the luminous, transparent and suggestive.

The other surprise was flagged up in the exhibition blurb - " British artists have been among the greatest...." The curator couldn't find any contemporary representational watercolourists good enough to show, apparently. Instead we get a handful of water-based works by artists best known for other media. There are plenty of blank walls here. Watercolour is by far the most popular medium for living artists and they are missing. So for an interesting retrospective of watercolour before 1950ish, do go along and enjoy.