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



Not as twee as I feared, but would've liked to see more Turner and some Hockney & Chris Ofili (& less Tracey)... what was the Neil Tait about... certainly not watercolour!

If a Van Dyck could be included, why not Marlene Dumas, the pre-eminent contemporary artist working with watercolour... is she too challenging for Tate Britain?


Enjoyed it; so packed with many beautiful and intricate pieces, will have to return soon. Liked the know how about how water colour is made and seeing water colour sets of various famous artists. Agree with comments on some of the contemporary artists, who lack skill & ability with the media, saddly..

Claire Cohen

Visited 'Watercolours' yesterday and very impressed by its scope. I found the maps very interesting and I loved the contemporary works - even the 'grey squiggles'. The only thing I would like to have seen was an example or two of contemporary botanical watercolours to compare with the likes of Sidney Parkinson and Margaret Mee. I hope to visit again before the show closes.

Julian Hayward

I found the atmosphere rather dead on entering, I can't explain why. I thought there were possibly too many Turners relative to the representation of other artists. I felt recent work without exception looked feeble when set against past masters. There are better examples of modern work in existence - including that of illustrators who work in watercolour. Blots may be interesting in themselves, but seemed out of place in this exhibition.


I really loved the exhibition. Well thought out and a fantastic journey through how watercolour developed over the years. Some really interesting work.

The last room seemed quite out of contrast however.

Also I would advise visiting on a weekday if possible. We visited on a Saturday afternoon and in my opinion there were far too many people. At times we had to queue to see a piece.

Lesley Benson

i really loved the exhibition. It did genuinely challenge my semi-conscious thoughts about watercolour as a medium, and I felt the way it was laid out really helped in doing this. The central section tracing the development of watercolour techniques was a very useful addition, as it helped put the different approaches into a technical/skills context. I came with my family as a 21st birthday treat for my son, and it was just great. The first rooms, with the maps and botanical studies totally fascinated my geographer husband. Thanks for something which for me was presented in a way which informed, inspired and challenged. To repeat, just great.

Alan Penn

Really the best exhibition I have seen in ages - its really nice to see just a few of an artists best works rather than all the mediocre ones as well. Also nice to have a technique stream running through things - something of a focus on the evolution of the medium as well as the message... well done.

Christopher Collier

Watercolour seems to be woven into English life, whether you're painting flowers, out and about on horseback, or visiting the front on a military truck. It's about the ephemeral, not aspiring to great art, and yet the best survives the generations, and defines generations. This the exhibition conveys brilliantly.

It's also about being English. There's no attempt to show what other cultures or countries might produce. Turner heads off to Switzerland, and on to Venice, but he's the Englishman abroad. The Blue Rigi is a wow, but untypical: we're used to our landscapes on a smaller scale.

It's also amazing to have an exhibition where if you've any talent you can think, well, I'll give that a go. If you've no talent, the practice of watercolour painting at least seems close to home, not part of a rarefied studio life.

Inner visions don't qualify so well, maybe they could just as well be oils, but I guess there's a time when it just seems the right medium. Where the medium is absolutely wrong is the Burne-Jones, which are rich from a distance and lifeless close to. Burra's desolate images on the other hand bring the dead alive.

As for the last room, Tracey Emin and Karen Black qualify on no possible grounds. The medium is irrelevant in daubs, or sculptures, or collages... Why would artists want to be in an exhibition which is about everything they're not? The fact that that water and paint are involved is simply not enough of a connection. Also, isn't a better for an exhibition, just as a concert or play, to end on a positive note, which might be some kind of a high, or a moment of reflection, but which relates back and draws inspiration from what's gone before?

In this case, whatever the message, I don't believe it's that watercolour in the hands of Emin and Black is surviving triumphantly into the 21st century.

Jenny Knight

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, and spent two or three very happy hours engrossed in the delights on offer. I had anticipated rooms of endless landscapes, and was instead challenged by the multiple approaches and techniques employed by a marvellous selection of artists. It was fascinating to see unexpected works - Richard Dadd's wonderful, delicate seascape, the maps, a jewel of a picture of Venice. The display of materials and palettes of well known artists added to the enjoyment. However, I must add my voice to those above protesting at the last room. Whatever inspired the inclusion of that plastic spoon? Surely this is not the best the 21st century can offer after all the glories shown in the earlier rooms?

Patric Parker

The exhibition started well, most enjoyable, the Turners being highlights. Commentry was generally excellent. However the exhibition, for me, fell away with the later so called paintings. A few grey squiggles on a large piece of paper is, for me, not art and I was at a loss to determine what these were meant to be conveying. As for the painted twigs my three-year-old grand-daughter produces better than this at play school. As for the plastic sheet I produce one of these every time a paint a ceiling!

Georgia Riga

I enjoyed the exhibition, was really interesting to see how precision can be achieved in watercolour. Some of the early works exhibited were fascinating, yet can't share same feeling for more contemporary artists and abstracts.


really loved it - and found the Turners in the last room extraordinary; as modern and strong as anything done today. very exciting.

Stephen Nunn

I became a member as a gift initially, but value the access that it gives me to the exhibitions - many of which I visit at lunchtimes from work, so have a tapas experience rather than banquet. Turner is my favourite artist and thanks to Tate I now have a minor obsession with Blake too. This exhibition showed the true versatility and art of watercolour painting. I liked the whimsy of the melting snowball forming a painting of its own. I agree that Melville's "The blue night" was a revelation, but the war room really had an impact - Watercolour - the capture of conflict - there maybe an exhibition of its own there? Overall, Thank you TATE for challenging my perceptions of the medium and allowing me to see some wonderful works in one place.

Brian Hunt

A really worthwhile exhibition; informative, and interesting. It opened my eyes to the precision possible with watercolour, and the variety of techniques developed through the ages. I'm glad I made the effort.

Mrs Suzanne Bolton

I loved the Watercolour exhibition having seen the documentary on tv with Sheila Hancock made me want to see the Watercolours up close especially Turner. Being a non painter my self I am amazed how these artists could paint so beautifully. It is a gift to be able to produce such work.

Beverley Entwistle

I really enjoyed the exhibition; I especially admired the Arthur Melville painting as well as the Girtin and Monet pictures. However I was so disappointed by the art offerings in the final room - deeply ordinary and uninspirational - there are so many brilliant artists working in the 2oth and 21st centuries..why did you not use these? It was a shame that the exhibition ended on a low note!!

Roberta Taylor

Good as a didactic exhibition. The development of watercolours via Exploring the Medium was well explained & I enjoyed Queen Victoria's satchel & Albert Edward's paintbox with his address! Don't care for large watercolours aping oil paintings & this exhibition did not make me change my mind but fits in with didactic approach to the subject.

John Ford

A good exhibition, well thought out and planned with some staggering paintings. But completely spoiled by the 'slap in the face' delivered by the last exhibit. I really felt that the hanging piece of plastic, covered in a calamine lotion pink spoke to me. It said 'thank you for paying £14 for the exhibition - it enables conceptual artists like me and the lady who painted a couple of twigs and a plastic spoon to show our work amongst real talent and you poor people who dare to think to complain obviously know nothing about art.'

Maggie Donaldson

I really enjoyed the show, and for once, I thought a thematic approach to the curation really worked. It revealed watercolour's diversity and flexibility, as it can be used for extraordinarily intricate scientific draughtmanship through to large and ambitious abstract works. Unlike many others, I really enjoyed the final room, and again, the thematic approach allowed us to realise that abstract art is not just a Twentieth Century concept. Two gripes - the sign-posting from the main entrance was very poor - please put something on the stairwell so people don't think they have made a mistake and ended up in the cafe and loos. And it got very busy, making it very hard to get up close to some of the more delicate and intricate works. I am pleased it is so popular but it is getting very frustrating and exhausting visiting these big exhibitions for an old bat like me. Apart from that, bravo!

Claire Smith

I also thought it dull. Certainly there are some wonderful pieces in the exhibition but these can be seen in Tate, BM, Imperial War Museum, and other collections anyway. It says nothing new about watercolour and does not challenge any conventional perceptions of the medium. It is particularly weak in terms of exploring contemporary usage. I decided it is a Tate coffer-filling show, and in this I expect it will be successful.


great exhibition....I have been back a few times now and enjoy it more on each visit. I even walked over the the chelsea college of art shop and bought some watercolor paints after my last visit....having felt inspired

John Patterson

I found Watercolour to be a very intelligently curated exhibition, and a refreshing change to have one based on a medium rather than a single artist. Not all the works were equally appealing to me, but this is hardly surprising given that the gallery is trying to show the chronology and scope of the medium in full. The audio interpretation was perfect; just enough information without intruding on your personal viewing.

I didn't realise that watercolour was such a British medium nor did I know that it had so many different applications. A very satisfying exhibition. Many thanks.


Splendid - Two hours of pure enjoyment After reading some early reviews I wondered what to expect. However it ranged far and wide, a really good mix of artists and styles, and such a broad timespan. It also showed that success in one medium didn't guarantee quality in another. Some well known names in oils were not as at home in watercolour. The illustrated books were of particular interest. One item in particular jarred - the plastic spoon - which could have been picked up off my work bench, surely the space could have been put to better use.

Robert Pratt

For the first time, I started to understand the diversity of watercolour and the unique beauty of this form. Really liked the piece by Peter Doig and so many more already highligted in this blog. Can't understand why you would display nonsense and nothingness, i.e., Tracy Emin (what is that all about....) and the last room with that odd pink plastic thing hanging from the ceiling - not the image I wanted left in my head as I left the exhibition. However, I'm a massive fan of Tate and always find elements of every exhibitions that I love. Many thanks to the curators.

Phil Whiteley

Booked into this exhibition as part of our Blackpool v Fulham weekend in London. We lost the game but the exhibition was excellent, especially the war room and certain other picture which took my breat away e.g. the Osprey. At midday on Saturday the numbers of people were OK unlike the Gaugin exhibition visited earlier in the year.

Helen Duncan

I would never have believed that an exhibition of watercolours could be so engaging. I love the medium but associate it with subtle colouring and conventional subjects. I like to have some vibrancy and a bit of a challenge every now and then and there was plenty there that met this need. Having said all that, Turner's Blue Rigi came as a surprise. I have seen pictures of it but wasn't prepared for the effect it had on me. Its calming influence really reached out to me and soothed away the stresses of a frenetic week.

Edward Hickman

Liked the accessible scope of the exhibition, the chronological and thematic design worked well. I have always liked the war related paintings which the Imperial War Museum exhibits so well. Opened my eyes to the versatility of water colour and the potential for accuracy - I had tended to associate the medium with Turner like imagery before. Comment on the blog itself - seems to suffer from group think re: last room. It was different but so were all the other rooms ....


I must say I was rather disappointed by the paintings on display and think you would find far better selection just by browsing through the regular rooms in the Tate. Sorry was rather underwhelmed by the first few rooms and then the second last room was a complete mish mash and too crowded with content. Not up to your usual standard.............


I liked the flower and plant watercolours but overall am glad I attended as a member I would have felt a little hard done by if I had paid £14 for that exhibition. Really quite underwhelming and think it was the quickest I have ever been round any exhibition in last 18 months.


So busy I could hardly see any of the paintings. Hugely disappointed.


It's a bit patchy, as mixed shows like this usually are, but there's enough stuff which is good or just really unusual to make it worth a visit.

The big question for me is when is Tate going to have a major exhibition dedicated to Edward Burra? The more I see by him the more impressed by his work I am.

Deborah R

TBH, we were expecting to see an exhibition dedicated to typical 18th & 19th century watercolours by Turner et al. and were very pleasantly surprised at the depth and range of the work included. We particularly liked the manuscripts and maps.

I have to say we felt the final room was a waste of time and wall space but it did provide an excellent comparison of the skill demonstrated in previous centuries and the total lack of it demonstrated by today's 'artists'.

Valerie Webb

I really enjoyed the watercolour exhibition as an overview of works in watercolour. As an amateur artist who is trying to master watercolour painting, as the hardest medium, I was very interested in two aspects particularly. I was surprised that so many of the featured works and artists used gouache. I have only just started to do so myself. I was also pleased to encounter the concept that making marks and allowing the paint to suggest a subject or interpretation is a common practice. I have just started to do this as well. As far as the modern exhibits in the final room are concerned, whilst they are not "my cup of tea" I am interested and open minded about what modern artists are doing.

Anne Sinclair

The layout of the exhibition was great as I could travel to the latest artist's interpretations using this "British" medium. However for me, it was the drama of the lion-headed macaque, the osprey and the fine hairs on the dark Geranium. Especially as this visit was a preview to the RHS Orchid Show and botanical drawings yesterday. This confirms to me that this medium is great for nature's fine art.


It was good to see such a wide variety of approaches to watercolour painting. It's a medium which sometimes gets bogged down in technical details amd bravura at the expense of personal expression and aesthetic considerations. But it's also very practical - especially for painting out-of-doors in our ever-changing weather or when travelling abroad.

Gerard Stamp

Excellent exhibition, challenging and thought provoking, long overdue. Many old favourites with Turner and Girtin particularly prominent, but the third of that great trilogy, John Sell Cotman, could have been better represented from the Tate's collection. Some delightful surprises (Arthur Melville's 'The Blue Night, Venice' is a show stopper)and some absolute horrors. (I won't add to the long list of Emin's detractors, but what was Burne-Jones thinking of when he painted the dreadful 'Merciful Knight'?) However, while contemporary abstract and celebrity artists feature in the last rooms, where are the contemporary figurative painters who have mastered of the medium? Where is Elizabeth Blackadder? Or the late Leslie Worth? Or Paul Emsley? Or Hugh Buchanan? (Modesty prevents me from suggesting any more.)

Steve Cook

An enjoyable exhibition. It would have been of interest to show works by more recent and contemporary artists such as Edward Wesson, Rowland Hilder, John Yardley and Trevor Chamberlain in order to allow an insight into the more traditional use of the medium as a balance to some of the more challenging modern pieces. A nod to some of the watercolour societies and galleries such as the Mall and Bankside would also have been useful to those visiting the show who may have wished to further their exploration of watercolour.

Judith Simmons

The early part of the exhibition was beautiful, the range of effects produced exhilerating and the section on the medium interesting and informative. The intensity of the horrifying images in 'Watercolour and War' was unexpected - and anhilated the view of watercolour as a gentle medium. The section on contemorary uses was a great disappointment. I was excited by images by Ian McKeever, Lucy Skaer, Peter Doig and a few others but the majority of the daubs and twiddles left me cold. Turner's sketches hung here were his 'beginnings', not meant for public view, but they were considerably more interesting than works by well known names. There must be innovative modern waterclourists who could have represented the many areas in which the medium is used

Mike Goolden

I entirely agree with A Moores' comments of 17 March and couldn't have put it better. An excellent exhibition, spoilt by the rubbish at the end (which would be better placed down river!).

Michael Richards

My partner, Sarah, and I enjoyed WATERCOLOUR enormously. We were very pleased to see a range of 20th century and contemporary painters, instead of the Tate taking the easy option of having rooms full of 18th and 19th century masters. The Turners were breathtaking, of course, but what a treat to see less obvious figures such as Lucia Nogueira, Sandra Blow and Lucy Skaer in this context. The exhibition really gave a sense of the variety and potential of water-based media. We were less enamoured of the audio guide, which seemed to avoid paintings that required some explanation - such as the David Joneses - in favour of some banal comments about William Blake and the like, which amounted to descriptions of the pieces before our eyes. A complete waste of money in my view.

John Fairchild

Exhibition generally ok, but I think an opportunity has been missed. Pre 1930's was what one would have expected, but what about today's watercolourists. The last room was in no way representative of todays works, half of that shown has very little to do with watercolour, and the other half just did not catch my attention!! What about the mass of artists these days turning out good, vibrant, exhibition worthy works of art?? Perhaps you should visit some of the smaller local galleries/exhibitions to see what is really going on in the world!!!!


A wonderful exhibition, but why were Turner sketches included in the last 'abstract' room? Taking what were, surely, simple preliminary studies, and placing them in this context, is to misrepresent Turner in a shameful way.

Ken Saunders

At our age of discretion, ie 44th. wedding anniversary, this was the first visit by my wife, Marie and I to the Tate gallery. We were suitably impressed by the water colour exhibition. The wide scope of paintings on display opened our eyes to the vast field of water colour art. thank you.

Melanie Woollcombe

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and I thought they way it was set out in themes was an interesting new take. Some of the detailed botanical paintings in the first room were exquisite but I felt there were gaps in the later rooms and the theme became a little more obscure. Overall good though I might have balked at £14 had I had to pay it. (I am a member.)

steve lobb

The Edward Burra's were stunning, paticularly the landscape with the hill and pool beneath - also extraordinary the Sutherland and Paul Nash's.

Ron Neesam

Wonderful! You covered the vast range of this most difficult of media courageously. In my opinion no artist ever commanded watercolour like J.M.W.Turner and Thomas Girton and appropriately these two figured large. To see Turner's colour box and other equipment was an unexpected joy. Each gallery was breathtaking. I commend the Tate for this and will thoroughly recommend a visit.

annette fry

was delighted at the breadth of work in the exhibition, from the minute and fastidious, to the large and expansive, that whole gamut, which left me feeling how much room and space there was for extensive creativity within the medium. Inspired to start painting again. Not bad eh?

michael riggs

I see why Turner is so widely considered the master of the medium; his sketchbook really wowed me, and I spent most time taking in Blue Rigi.

The themed approach was really useful. I left with a better understanding of the development of w/colour. The maps were an unexpected delight.

Painters of the era of Ravilious, Nash, Burra (a surprise),Sutherland have long been in my pantheon and I liked the selection. The 21stC seemed thin by comparison.

The catalogue was a helpful purchase, but the audio commentary added little to my understanding .

The show was well worth a trip up from the sticks.

Thanks a-plenty!

Iain Jarvis

Interesting to see how watercolours are used - not a medium I was familar with beyond Turner type landscapes or the detailed botany stuff (which whilst great technically does nothing for me). The history section was interesting, but actually nothing there I'd want to take home!

John Noakes

I very much liked the themed approach which demonstrated so well the way watercolours had developed and the uses to which so many were applied.

I thought the display of materials through the main periods was most revealing - how the artists managed to achieve what they did with the materials available was quite incredible.

I was a member of the Knowle local art group on a conducted tour which I thought was outstanding. The guide was so knowledgeable yet came across in a very easy to understand way - with plenty of humour as well! Regretfully I cannot recall her name but 'thank you' to her.

A most enjoyable and informative day.