Our exhibition Watercolour is now open at Tate Britain.

Visitor looking at Sandra Blow 'Vivace' 1988

Sandra Blow Vivace 1988: what do you think?

© Estate of Sandra Blow

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).

Courtsey British Museum

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

Courtesy The British Museum

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


ashley rayfield

I was pleasantly surprised. I went more out of duty than enthusiasm (I'm a member) and felt I should support the exhibition. I simply had had no idea that watercolour could be so versatile. Some of the work might almost have been photographs eg the primroses and birds' nest. The war room was absolutely compelling. I enjoyed the Turners in particular. Agreed that £14 is too much.

Monica Vincent

Can't work out how to post a comment so picked reply to the first on the list. The exhibition was crowded so I did not use the audioguide and will return, as I'm not sure I appreciated the concepts or selection of the later rooms. BUT on friends' recommendation went to James Hart Dyke's exhibition from his year with MI6 at Mount Street Galleries. Interesting watercolours there, and yes he sketches onsite, so a fascinating 21st century example of using the medium for topography and reportage. This show closes 26th Feb but the catalogue can be viewed on Mount Street Gallery website. NB Must return to Kew to see more beautiful botanical drawings.


The old paintings were fascinating for their tiny details and color blending.I found the war room quite dull and was really disappointed with the last two rooms that were showing the modern approach to watercolors.I am artist myself and know that watercolor is a great type for media and can be used in so many ways.Tate could have certainly used better display of contemporary/abstract watercolor work.

sally redway

I felt very very disappointed by the exhibition - of all the wonderful watercolours they are: the exhibition showed academic studies which didn't seem to me to explore the possibilities of the medium at all. The only paintings that did this were the very few contemporary paintings

Liz Hoare

I enjoyed the exhibition until the last room. I had been building up for an explosion of the brilliant Colours of our modern watercolourists. I was disappointed by the rather insipid items shown here.

Christopher Royle

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and while I am not a fan of all the exhibits I think they did add value by showing how watercolour as a medium can be used and explored. As this is an exhibition about a medium rather than a specific style, I think it was important to show all that has been achieved by using watercolour. As a native of Rye I was especially delighted to see Paul Nash and Edward Burra represented!

Han Zhou

Watercolour has always been my favourite media. Fascinating to see what possibility and capability it has. The modern/ contemporary part was refreshing: adapted techniques, how artists used the fluidity& "the mood" of watercolour.. The "old-fashioned" sections are amazing as well. Beautiful things speak for themselves. Just beauty is enough~

Jane G

Excellent exhibition - very informative and well put together!

nick wood

A revelation. I hadn't realised the range. Never really thought about watercolours. Today you hear artists talking about the accidental nature of watercolours and so I wasn't expecting the precision. The Dadd paintings. And the Turners - a wash, two dabs of paint, red and black, you have to be good to be that simple. Good to see Paul Nash and Piper again. I'll try and come back for another look.

Adrienne MacLagan

It was interesting to see how watercolour painting started and evolved. However my daughter and myself were both very disappointed that there was not a final room containing more modern contemporay works. I was hoping for some inspiration and to feel excited by the exhibition, but sadly this was not the case!

Andrew O'Flynn

I loved the exhibition from both an historical and an artistic perspective. I was quite taken aback at how contemporary some of the really old exhibits seemed especially the pollarded oak - and the Pre-Raphaelite connection had not occured to me before. There were some pieces I might question there importance - the minimal drawings in gallery 3 (I think - I may have the room wrong) were not floating my boat but I especially liked the graphic watercolours of the First world War patients - not as art per se, as they were gruesome but as a record of the vile things we as a species do to one another - they should be recorded and exhibited.

Steve Nicholson

Enjoyed the exhibition, but it was a little too crowded and I ended up rushing through. My problem is as a teacher I only get to go at half term, with the crowds.

Susan Benn

The versatility of the medium and techniques + materials to buy then and there made this an inviting experience. The curatorial approach to the contemporary part of the exhibition was however less coherent than the rest of the show..with good artists inevitably left out. As always in the TATE I miss the presence of artists actually working in the galleries..there seems no space can be provided for this at Tate Britain but perhaps the new Turbine spaces at Tate Modern will address this gap..and consideration can be given in future at Tate Britain in future to employ artists in the museum to contribute to the public's understanding through their artistic practice.

Nicolas Hawkes

Your bloggers seem to fall into two polarized groups. I am in the supportive group, which learnt about, and enjoyed, the range of ways in which water-colour (gouache, etc) have been used. Uninspired by the final room or two, I would not have wanted more contemporary w/colour stuff - that's another exhibition, surely. Turner's abstraction is fascinating. Personally I would have liked more Girtin and Towne, but appreciate that you weren't running "another" traditional British w/colour show.

btw please amend your blogsite to accept British spelling.


Sandra Morris

I must confess to having been rather disappointed by the exhibition. Although there were individual paintings that I really liked - Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Paul Nash, Peter Doig, to pick a few - I felt there were too many pictures from the Pre-Raphaelite and other Victorian painters, and not enough examples of young contemporary artists. In general, I liked the first two and the last rooms, but was unimpressed by the middle of the exhibition.


finding out watercolour was used for scientific illustrations was an eye opener. On the other hand I feel the exhibition was really vague and misleading. If we display acrylic paintings together with watercolour then its meaning becomes too broad and we should display lots of different types of water based paintings such as pop art. The last room, the modern one, was really disappointing and failed to represent modern watercolour in a contemporary way. Calling the exhibition 'water based' rather than Watercolour would be much more truthful.

Judith Wanliss-...

I thoroughly enjoyed the show though I felt there was too much mixed media and several important painters (to me) were missing. The 'Source' painting is of the Aveyron and not as you have spelt it. The Howard Hodgkin and the Burra stood out above the rest. I came home determined to take out my old paintboxes and try again, something which has not happened in a long time.

chris hill

Overall an impressive display but I personally feel,firstly, that it would have been enhanced by the inclusion of more works from beyond Europe,and,the inclusion of works that fall outside of the remit of the professional.

And secondly, as watercolour to some extent represents a 'democratisation' of artistic production by failing to include such works may reinforce the idea that art is restricted to a specific social/economic grouping, or indeed, a grouping defined by contemporaneous aesthetic values.

Colin McNamee, ...

Thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and layout. Apart from the last exhibit 'Opportunities for Girls' (?title) which seemed totally out of keeping, inappropriate and somewhat meaningless within the context of the exhibition.

This was my first visit to an art exhibition to view 'Watercolour' as although I have only lately discovered an interest in the subject my knowledge of art generally is poor and I therefore found the exhibit dedicated to the paints, brushes and history of water colours of great interest.

Disappointed that there were not more Turner on display - I shall have to pursue my interest there by visiting the appropriate galleries - and very surprised/disappointed that there were no Russell Flint.

Thoroughly enjoyed visit, as did my wife, and I learnt a lot.

The shop was also well stocked with an interesting and relevant coverage of books.

Chloe Furniss

Today I visited the Watercolour exhibition for the 2nd time. My first visit was late in the day, quiet and wonderful to be able to look carefully at all the work I was interested in and talk to my friend about what we saw. I came back today, only this time with 9 adults and 30 4/5 yr olds.

I appreciate that our presence was not welcomed by everyone (particularly as it was very hot and very busy) but I am happy to say that more people were pleased to see us enjoying the work, investigating the subject matter and doing a comparison between the Burne Jones Annunciation and the Sandra Blow. It is possible.

My children absolutely loved being in such a special place, their comments and the learning achieved far outweighed some of the negative stares from other visitors.

'I love the beautiful frame, it makes the painting look important' 'I think the artist has used water on the paper to make the paint flow' 'I think this artist was very careful to make tiny brushstrokes'...

It was a brilliantly eclectic mix of work that I feel worked very well as an introduction to the world of galleries, art and watercolour. I am very proud of my class, especially as they are more informed, enlightened and more able to appreciate art.

Thank you to all the people who smiled, spoke to us kindly and were understanding.

As one lady said '4 years old? Excellent! Start them off young and they'll be coming for life!'

(The outstanding favourite was by far the Heron)

Isabel Wilkinson

On the whole I enjoyed the exhibition. I found it a little incoherent - I felt the variety of points it was making did not cohere very well - but nevertheless informative. It was perhaps more of an "art history" event than an "art" event - fine by me, but judging from some of the comments above, maybe not to others. But from the "art" point of view, I was very impressed by the work of many of the artists, especially Peter Doig, and I think the exhibition did demonstrate the variety of what can be done with the medium by different kinds of artists.

Tom King

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition. I agree that there were some odd absences but there was plenty to enthrall and some to snigger at. The room that traced the history of technique was very well put together. I am left some images that will linger. Thank you

chris davis

what a disappointment! Yes loved the Melville,and some of the Girtin, awful Cotman, you must have some better ones! Market place one good but the blue and brown one horrid. And I am passionate about Cotman.History good, was longing to see more of the sheer beauty of the medium, the heartstopping nature of it (I paint in watercolour myself and it is a seat of the pants ride). Hated the Victorian 'see how I can make it like a heavy oil painting' stuff. As for the last room, what a missed opportunity. The Emin as per, I did love the Heron, Lanyon and Hodgkins. But the ones that freaked us out and made us laugh along with two other viewers was the old plastic teaspoon and the twigs-you'd find those in any primary school art sink, was that the point? Would love to know why you included those. So no, not my best show this year, in fact the worst. We visited Orozco in the morning, and were absolutely bowled over by it, so we're not stick in the mud in spite of being old, Wished we'd done them the other way round.

roger fitzhugh

a good, broad ranging exhibition. the obvious highlights were the turners and thomas girtin. the great suprise was edward burra. he and girtin are due a major retrospective. also, will you reprint the girtin catalogue from the 2002 exhibition please. the plastic dust sheet hanging from the ceiling will come in handy for some decorating.

Keith Bridgeman

It was overlong and the focus on the medium left me bewildered by the variety of images which varied in theme from room to room but too much so. Unfortunately the show started with perfection, the van Dyck, after that I needed no more but the Turner showed that there is so much more than dull and accurate records.

Patricia Maynard

I visited the exhibition yesterday with my husband and we both thoughroughly enjoyed it. It was one of the best exhibitions I have visited recently and we particularly enjoyed the section on materials. It was also interesting to see the variety of techniques used through the centuries.

Bob Hutchings

I am most impressed by the artists ability to convey reality to a higher standard than can be captured by a photographic image, I am a sucker for Botnical Illustration. The meduim lends itself to soft impressions, less impressed with iy just being used to colour space and shapes, I would not have known this if you had not shown it to me. Can not appreciate peaks withought troughs to compare them with.


Great educational show. Enjoyed seeing some old favourites again. Not enough modern work. Also too crowded. Will be back again at a quieter time. Overall- an inspiring show.

Laurie Lattimore

A great exhibition which I enjoyed very much. A clear explanation of the importance and development of watercolour with superb examples. The work by Burne Jones and Macintosh were most enjoyable. A winner for me and another good reason for my Tate membership.


I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, in particular the early watercolours, maps and botanical paintings,which were just stunning. Underwhelmed by the last room, but maybe I just didn't get it. It was very crowded, but it was bound to be so early in the exhibition's run and half-term to boot. Sadly I live 300 miles away so won't be back for a return visit, but will recommend it to anyone going that way.

Lloyd Hughes

I could have stayed longer than the hour and a half I did but for the crowded rooms which hampered my view and got somewhat stuffy. The exhibition was superb, especially the more modern works. I wanted to stand back from some, get close up to others but the slow moving queue either got in the way or made me move on. It's not futile to mention the crowds as one comment above states, if you're going to see the exhibition and truly appreciate it you have to see it comfortably. Limit numbers, it may not be so cost effective but I bet it would give greater pleasure to those attending at any one time.


I reallylike it - particularly the medieval borders, the entomologist's dream and, of course, the monkey - why no poster?! My husband found it rather bitty and was less pleased - but still, a pleasant afternoon.

Diana Lloyd

I really enjoyed the exhibition and loved the variety and also the approach... but where was Hockney?

Nicholas Hardie

For this late middle-aged, middle brow visitor, who enjoys best the 'traditional' English taste for English landscape watercolour 1750-1850 (and dabbles a bit himself), this exhibition was an eyeopener. The section on the techniques (with examples), the equipment used in former years, these were fascinating. Then the War Room was the most challenging to the 'traditional' taste. Among the abstracts the surprise was the titles given by Turner to his 'Beginning's and his Blue and Yellows. (Indicate that he thought of them conceptually?) Many thanks.

Janet Lacey

I have visited this show and found it an interesting view. The early 16th century work and botanical paintings show illustrative recording and the function of this medium. It is not grand but very beautiful and has an intimacy particularly in the minitaures. Loved the sketch books and drawings. The war pieces are surprisingly graphic and Burra makes me think of Banksy! Could have seen some of the Moore drawings in with those but not for this show. The photographic quality of pieces like the stones are thought provoking as my eye and mind are conditioned by pixelated and tweeked photographic reproduction and he convenience of fast imagery, but these are painstaking in detail. Turner's sketched marks placed in the contemporary section put some of the modern work in it's place (which bores me, philistine as that may be). You have to be a draughtsmen to be a memorable artist and it is a loss to modern art that this skill is not essential. Ruskin's little jewel noted. Kapoor ... sadly that red is endless, last time I saw it was as cannon fodder and if he wants to paint a f@***, just get on with it. Burne-Jones fertile imagination and appreciation of the female. Tracy's Berlin bonking splodge? And the 3D piece; had a brolly with the same effect left in a cupboard which decorators painted with emulsion, though water based doesn't really count. Rest my case about the moderns. After Turner's ships stopped and remembered it was 200 years ago when he painted and his thoughts hang in the same space. Ran out today to get masking fluid and finer brushes. Felt less of a failure about own blobby daffs painting, tweeked it. If this is the medium of amateurs then its a group I can only aspire to. (Van Dyke's in it too) :-). Will go again.


Like some others I had gone with high hopes and was severely disappointed. So few contemporary works and so many works that were not watercolours! If you have not been yet - save your money.


I greatly enjoyed this exhibition. I liked the studio paintings least; I found the info and displays on the art and practice of watercolour painting very helpful and interesting. I was disappointed not to find any Irish watercolours - the Irish sky and landscape suit this medium wonderfully well.


I am not a fan of watercolour, yet, I felt the exhibition might convert me, having been told that it showed the full potential of the medium. I am still not a fan. I suspect an opportunity was missed and the exhibition could have been more dynamic and inspiring. For me, it did not bring surprises or push boundaries. When I heard David Hockney talk about watercolour I felt inspired to go outdoors and try it. This exhibition turned me off. I decided to visit the Susan Hiller exhibition to see if it would cheer me up - now that did inspire me.

Linda Chatfield

I was not too sure about the first room - perhaps not what I expected, and although I can admire such detailed work, botanical painting is not for me. The personal exhibits - paintboxes etc - were fascinating. I did feel however that there were more watercolours in the Tate that could have been used, and some artists were overrepresented and some under. Why choose 'those' Turners?? Again, as some have commented, it was not all strictly watercolour. It was interesting, and I spent an hour in there, but glad I did not pay the full entrance fee, otherwise would have felt a bit shortchanged - so to speak. However, can't please all the people all the time, and it certainly gave me a chance to see paintings I wouldnt otherwise have looked at, even if I didnt like all of them

Daniel Andersson

Anyone recall the name (I think it may have been French?) of the artist whose work was framed in an old frame that looked like four crosses put together? I'm fairly sure it was in the Inner Vision section.

Edgeworth Johnstone

Excellent show. I'll have to go again.


Most impressed with this exhibition. Getting up close to these works particularly the Turners was, for me, quite emotional at times. It makes one's own efforts at watercolour seem like the scribblings of a 3 year old. It is a large and mostly comprehensive exhibition - the artist's sketchbooks were another must see. All in all a most impressive effort by the Tate. Highly recommended.

Robert Geismar

Loved the exhibition. A such an added treat to see Susan Hiller also!!

GILLES Maryvonne

It was a very interesting, instructive exhibition, showing very clearly the historical development of watercolour painting, and the various approaches to the medium. Very much impressed from the start by van Dyck's Coastal Landscape, in the 1st room, showing such a "modern", subtle use of watercolour. Only one regret: I would have been prepared to see more works, especially by Girtin, Cotman, etc... Back in France, will share the catalogue with my friends, watercolour painters. There's a lot to learn from it.

Bevis Sale

The exhibition is spoilt by the misleading title. The particular qualities of the watercolour technique, transparency and dilution, are not shared by the other techniques that pad out the show. I had understood that the purpose of the exhibition was to restablish the status of watercolour from its perceived position of only of use to amateur and very traditionalist landscape painters. The inclusion of all the other techniques muddies the water, and suggests that the curator there wasn't much of of a hands-on experience of the technique in however the works were chosen. The inclusion of aquatint,originally a reproductive method, is particularly useless; if this, why not other modern reproductive methods. Similarly, inclusion seems to have prevented a wider range of work from the great exponents of the past. It is interesting that when I went, the majority of the other viewers seemed to be "weekend landscape painter" type, from their comments, but this might just have been the time of day.

I would also have thought that a better and broader selection of contemporary artists should easily have been possible, and why on earth, given the number of old botanical illustrations, was there nothing by Elizabeth Blackadder? Similarly, it would have been good to include those far eastern artists who have used watercolour (ie ink) to record Britain, even if only in the twentieth century. Examples might include the Chinese artist who, mostly pre WWII, published travelogue books round English cities, and the Lake District, under the pseudonym "The Silent Traveller", and the Japanese artist Yuki Yaura, who graduated a few years ago from the RCA.

Bevis Sale

Having got this grumpy old bugger bit over, I shall return several times, just to revisit the Burra landscape, and the wonderful, inspiring, Jenny Franklin.

Philip Spink

An enjoyable exhibition even though the exceptional range of the subject leads to inevitable omissions and inclusions which are debatable. It is a clear and interesting exposition of the medium with some particularly outstanding works in the earlier rooms. The accompanying catalogue is excellent and well worth having. Must visit again!

Carl Blakey

I was impressed by the breadth of exhibition and some really stunning paintings and will come again. A few too many pre-Raphaelites.


I loved the exhibition. I thought it struck a perfect balance, exhibiting traditional and modern works in a sensible and accessible way. I took so long going round, my friends gave up on me and went off for tea! So nice to have plenty of space to view the works, no crowds when I went, and plenty of information about the works on show. I loved the displays of materials and examples of techniques, and the associated works hanging over the cases. The abstract room was a firecracker at the end. Congratulatons.

robin coulson

just popped in with the intention of coming for a longer look soon, such breathtaking skill, a terrific variety of work - my highlights - Ruskin's leaves; Melville's blue night painting of Venice, Goldsworthy's use of a paper roll, and Kapoor's red and black slash. I can't wait to go back!

Michael Edwards

I was thoroughly enjoying the exhibition as I progressed through the galleries but became a little puzzled by the war gallery which seemed out of place - why suddenly include a gallery which is thematic based rather than concerned with the progression of the watercolour medium? That said , as a practising watercolourist, I was looking forward to the 20th and 21st century exhibits with some anticipation. Regrettably I was thoroughly disappointed.

Watercolour is a medium of highly skilled techniques and yet these were in scant evidence in the contemporary galleries. The vast majority of works on display were the products of the 'arty fty art school' brigade whose skill in the use of the medium and ability to actually draw are questionable in the extreme. There seems to be a false elitism among many who profess to be art experts whereby any modern works displaying such virtues are looked down upon.

Please don't get me wrong; I enjoy all forms and was much taken with Kapoor and Blow's work although I did find the uninspired daubs of Emin quite unworthy of inclusion.

Art groups flourish across the UK and for practising watercolourists whether amateur or professional, it is those works which display a skill in the mediums techniques and are representational, or semi-representational, which inspire so many - and yet their interests have been completely ignored in this exhibition. Where were the modern acclaimed masters? No sign of the likes of Seago, Wesson, Yardley, Chamberlain, Merriott, Curtis, et al and the exhibition was incomplete and the worse for it.