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


John Friend

I liked the absence of explanations! Many art exhibitions give you too much text, too much background - I know you don't have to read it, but it's hard to resist. I felt I was making up my own mind about this stuff, more absorbed in the actual images.

As ever with a general exhibition (rather than a specific artist), it's hit and miss, depending on personal taste - but I find I prefer that nowadays. It's good to just wander through a show, dipping into this and that, rather than being beaten over the head with an artist's superstar status!


I loved the exhibition. Really enjoyed the historic stuff, liked the description of how the materials had changed over time (as a non-artist I really liked the room that showed the different techniques), loved the actual works themselves. Found the names of lots of artists I hadn't know about before.

John Wilkinson

I am not a regular grumbler but the quality of work seemed patchy. The cost of my train fare from the Midlands specially to visit The Watercolours would have been wasted had I not spent a lovely afternoon at The National Gallery. Leaving there, just before closing time, Trafalgar Square looked wonderful in the late afternoon sunshine apart from the god-bother-guy haranguing 50 or 60 students for being.. just alive I guess. As I walked behind him I don't know what came over me but I did "Rabbit's Ears” and their huge cheer and applause was a nice end for the day.

Roy Rogers

A stunning exhibition. The collection was fascinating, of particular interest were some of the sketchbooks, and I will pick out the colour 'sketch' of Blue Rigi, which resembled the finished work so closely. Some works I had nor seen before, and some I had seen in print, but to see the reality was stunning. I afraid I didnt understand the pink plastic 'thing' in the last room. Maybe it should have had a more detailed explanation. I was not really enthused by the dried up paint used by various artists, something more imaginative, such as current colour choices, compared to older colour choice would have been of greater interest to me. I will visit again before the exhibition closes. Thank you for arranging this display of wonderful works.

Harry Dickinson

Loved the exhibition though will need to go back as I got tired towards the end - there is much to see. Tate do these mixed exhibitions very well - what I like is the mixture of well-known artists with work of much lesser known or unfashionable people - what I call the highways and byways of art - for me the byways are of just as much interest as the highways

patricia Hernandez

I love it,need to go back it is to long

Jennifer Basannavar

My friend and I absolutely loved it. We were pretty gobsmacked by some of the early work and felt that it had a quality of timelessness e.g the fig branch and other botanical drawings. Adored the Lion-haired Macaque and the Blue Grosbeak. I was very moved by the Edward Burra war paintings but hated the Mexican Church. Not too bothered about the Contemporary Uses of Watercolour, but that's probably my failing. All in all, a great exhibition. Thank you!


The real contemporary examples were a disgrace, painted twigs anyone? The delight was seeing Aubrey Beardsley included. Other posters are right, bankside and the mall galleries do a better job. Some pieces I spotted from earlier Tate shows and wellcome shows.

David Barttelot

I found it disappointing, however I did enjoy seeing Turner's Blue Rigi again.

Julie Bowdler

A very interesting exhibition that showed a wide variety of painting and what watercolour can achieve. I really enjoyed the room devoted to paper and paint and techniques; I felt I learnt a lot. I was least impressed by the last room, but this somehow increased my appreciation of the earlier rooms.

Doug Potter

Was fascinated by the scope and range of the Watercolour exhbition. I am not afraid to admit I am anything but expert in art and that is one of the reasons I go to Tate Britain and Tate Modern to try and learn. I am going to have to return to the exhibition to see most of it again. I was struck by the way Watercolour records the past particularly the war images which are more effective than today's news channels. Many thanks!

Paul Gough

I thought the exhibition was very well organised. Clearly could see how the medium has evolved, and why it was used. I took a friend and it restored something inside her about watercolour painting. In fact, I heard this morning that she was up at 6am and started a watercolour painting. I enjoyed the modern paintings, especially the section on the war artists. Good section also explaining the pigments etc., and I would have love to have taken home something of Turner's. Well done

John and Janey ...

As an attempt to display the scope and potential of the medium it was a great success and my wife who is a keen watercolourist was very enthusiastic. The quality of the works was very high and it is a long time since I have wanted to steal so many of them!! I was particularly taken by the Chinese macaque and by the Palmer "Evening light"(?)and facinated by the record paintings of Sir Charles Bell and those coming out of the first world war. So, it was a great disappointment to reach the last galery and some of the modern works about which the most I can say is that they were of no consequence and certainly did not add to the understaning of what watercolour can achieve.

John Stephens

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition from detailed work of the plants through those stunning ones of Turner, one forgets sometime how great an artist he really was, then on to the more modern works to my favourite of them all, Patrick Heron's 'January 9 1983'. I also enjoyed 'Assembly 2007' by Ian McKeener.

Tracy Emin's scribbles were not worthy of inclusion. Likewise the plastic installation was surely not the most inventive or artistic work available.

Curtis Tappenden

Okay Alison, you have asked for opinions and here is another. I am a professional watercolour practitioner and have written a number of published books on the subject and also lecture on many aspects of art and design theory and practice including the history of watercolour at the University for the Creative Arts in Kent and Surrey, UK. It was a very good, instructive show for those who know little and I'm sure that showing the process and material side of this durable medium has enlightened many. A few too many maps may have been exhibited at the beginning, and where were any ethnographic/topographic examples by John White, one of the earliest exponents of watercolour recording- he significantly recorded the movements of natives of the North Carolina shores as part of Raleigh's exploration? His works are in the British Museum's collection! For every inclusion there will always be those who have been missed out and some disappointed viewers who feel their faves are not included. Wenceslaus Hollar, was an influential German watercolourist and printmaker having accompanied Thomas, earl of Arundel on a number of trips and settling for some time in London. He made many topographical studies of the city. They were to become highly influential on others, espacially in approach, viewpoint and technique...Another romantic figure missing from this show was Francis Place. His watercolours of Wales especially showed early mastery ahead of its time in technique; tonal subtlety and simple, economic handling which was not to be commonly seen for another hundred years. The Royal Academy trained Thomas's Malton senior and junior, both were architects, taught Turner and Girtin, and their architectural draughtsmanship with the medium needs documenting. Fast forwarding in this rich legacy- what of William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson or Hogarth's more distant 20th century relative, the late Paul Hogarth whose loping and inimitable reportage watercolours surely owe much to the tradition. Another great miss is of course, the brilliant Sir Hugh Casson. It is a shame in a way that the exhibition was only about the British exponents of what is rightfully termed a very British medium. But if it is ever considered again, as an exhibition subject for the future, how about some of the wonderful American realists: Hopper, Wyeth, Homer, or the wackier, expressive, Marin. On the European front, there is room for the angst-ridden Nolde, and the evocative Blauer Reite painters, Marc and Macke. Not forgetting, Cezanne, Pissaro, Kandinsky, Dufy and Klee. Back to Britain, I also wanted works by the immensely talented, Hercules Brabazon Brabazon and the now almost forgotten, Frank Brangwyn. Few women also- Mary Fedden, Frances Hodgkins, Elizabeth Blackadder. The weakest room by a mile was that housing the contemporary. Why Sandra Blow?- the acrylic (although it could be argued as water-based) was misleading and that space should have housed a giant masterpiece by the daring Graham Dean, a leading and exciting exponent of watercolour in the large, or William Tillyer, perhaps. Where was he? Hodgkin is a wonderful painter but those on show were NOT watercolours!!!! As for Tracey Emin, these were neither competent nor stretching of the medium. They showed in a weak way that she has not developed anything worthwhile in this medium, where her iconic, sewn quilts are far more worthy of her name. Emin does not belong here. These watery daubings merely added to her ongoing biography, and as such seemed only to be present because of her celebrity. So, on the whole some good work, but it did need deeper research to fill in weaker gaps and a greater effort to try to track yet more startling works. I was happy to attend with my family, have really enjoyed the essays in the catalogue and was pleased that it did inspire my children to want to come home and paint. But in many ways a missed opportunity.... Curtis Tappenden.

Maggie Taylor

This is a superb exhibition, intelligently crafted, full of fabulous information and absolutely delicious to look at. We took turns to choose which painting we'd like to take home with us. I wish!

Gordon Forrest

Although broad, educational and pleasantly unexpected in places, I was left feeling the need to discover further avenues in watercolour that were only briefly touched upon. No sooner had I seen a couple of pictures indicating a style that interested me than we were off at another unbeknownst(?) tangent. So, a fine exhibition but I could have hacked it being 2-3 times the size.

Geoffrey Alderson

I was quite disappointed,the exhibition fell between so many stools it lacked any focus. It tried to give instruction, as if for schools-how many Tate visitors need to be shown the development of the paintbox?. It tried to be exhaustive, as if every theme & every use had to be included, which led to the work of poorer painters being included (and those awful Pre-Raphaelites).The fact that it should be pleasurable had been overlooked, why not just include the very best works in landscape, still-life, portrait etc. and let the viewers make up their own minds.When I first read Richard Dorment`s comments I thought they had to be harsh, but I now know what he meant.


I agree with you completely Barabara, especially regarding the inclusion of a contemporary con-artist (pun intended) like Emin and the exclusion of a long established craftsman such as Hockney. No need to insult Ms MCardle though - this isn't YouTube!

John Collins

From the outset let me explain I have NO knowledge about art let alone watercolours but I do like looking at art and at that level I really enjoyed the Watercolours Exhibition.

On another level I found the exhibition very interesting and I left feeling I had been educated in a subtle unpretentious way. I particularly enjoyed the natural progression of the development of the medium and the excellent displays about the development of paints,brushes and paper and the painting techniques employed.

My moans are few and for the most part nothing you could do too much about: 1. I agree with Lloyd that the rooms were overcrowded and... 2. Why do so many people find it necessary to view displpays from a distance of eighteen inches? Surely they can't all be admiring the brushwork. 3. For me the rooms were a little over-warm.

Regardless of these comments I had a wonderful two and a half fours. Thank you so much.

John Collins

Tracy Luck

I enjoyed the exhibition when I wasn't sure that I would do, having seen an item on television I thought it looked too confused but in reality found the eclectic nature of the collection its strength. The range from the precision of the botanical to the interpretative of say the war collection was unexpectedly powerful. I bought the catalogue - a rare thing for me so must have been good. Agree though very warm, so delayer before you enter and make sure you get the audio guide, a must for this exhibition.

Mary Rodger

I absolutely loved 90% of the watercolour exhibition. Some pleasant surprises, the botanical studies would not normally be my 'thing', but they were stunning (especially the 'Beans'). Most of us will have felt a tinge of disappointment at our personal favourites not appearing - in my case Russell Flint and Elizabeth Blackadder should, I believe, have deserved a place in such an exhibition, but delighted to see Mackintosh and Melville represented. I was not impressed by the last two rooms, and saw little of interest there, other than the sensuously beautiful Ian McKeever. I am extremely open to modern interpretations in all forms of art, but could not see that much here was of any particular merit. Why, I wonder, to represent our current crop of talented artists, did you not include one of the marvellous watercolours on show at your recent Chris Ofili exhibition? The 'Watercolour and War' section was magnificent - thought provoking, disturbing, in some ways upsetting, but with its own haunting beauty. John Piper's 'Glaciated Rocks', and Edward Burra's 'Valley and River, Northumberland' will live with me as outstanding highlights. I wish there was space to right something on every single piece in the show, it seems wrong to pass over Turner, David Jones, Richard Dadd, and so on. I could eulogise ad infinitum! Overall, a superb show which I am recommending to everyone I meet! I loved it!

neil smith

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. I am a big fan of JMW Turner and his sketches were amazing, I bought the Big Rigi print along with a John Rennie Macintosh. The last room was "different", some of that I wouldnt give house room, the history bits were very good.

neil smith

Oh, and it was nice to see some John Sell Cotmanns there, one of my best mates is a big fan and he doesnt get the credit he deserves.

paul mcnamara

Excellent, interesting historical perspective on development of watercolour. Broad exhibition. Disappointed with some of the modern stuff.... and clearly work that really wouldn't have been missed eg Enim.

Mary Gillett

This was my second visit and still I was a little disappointed by the last room. However, I am not the expert on watercolour - having always avoided using it myself, and generally speaking, I loved the broadness of the show. In fact it inspired me to give watercolour a try now I realise I'm not restricted to all those tiny little tubes and cubes. The pieces I was most inspired by were, of course, the Turners. The others I loved were Kapoor, Blow, McKeever, Hodgkin and Heron. Funny that most were in the last room - but somehow, as a whole, it didn't seem to hang together as well as the other rooms. The conceptual stuff felt a bit "token". Surely there must be something more interesting out there. And I have to say, that I really couldn't cope with the ineffectual Emins. What was she DOING? I could see the thought behind including them perhaps - a link with the Turner "beginnings"? But by comparison .....o dear...they really didn't do her justice. But overall - yes - a wonderful, educational and eye-opening show.

Ron Gulley

As a keen watercolourist I was looking forward to this exhibition and I was not disappointed until I came to the last room. I felt this room was a let down as it fell well short of the standard of the previous rooms.I know that there are some excellent watercolourists currently practicing, one only has to go to the RWS and RI exhibitions,so why not some of these rather than the pretentious blobs of sevral well known names?

suzanne baker

I think Francis Howard hit the nail on the head. The show petered out, and needed editing. The strong green colour on the walls in one of the galleries was inappropriate too. Clearly a show to bring in cash, which I am sure it will. But whether it is good for Tate international prestige, integrity etc. is another thing.

Suzanne Baker

Lindsay Williams

I thought that the Watercolour exhbition was really poor. It was dull and lacked any oomph. I thought the contemporary works at the end were particulary poor and wondered why on earth there was examples of Tracy Emin? Watercolour is still alive and kicking but you would never have believed this from the work on show in this very boring exhibition!!

Andrew Moir

My initial impression was very favourable and I anticipated being taken on a journey from watercolour being simply a means of colouring illustrations to its use to convey immediacy of expression. However the progressively reducing number of visitors in each room suggested that I was not alone in losing my interest on this journey. Having competed to glimpse the exhibits in the earlier part of the exhibition, it was most telling that there were only 3 other visitors with me in the final room, one of the largest in the exhibition. This last room was particularly disappointing and left me with a marked sense of anticlimax as an enduring memory. I almost overlooked the teaspoon, and rather wished I had. Surely there are better contemporary exponents of watercolour who could have been featured? Still, I suppose the critics said that about Turner at the time.

Susanne Taylor

Just reading the posts above it is easy to see how difficult it is to please everyone. It was a diverse and illuminating show with many stunning pieces. You expect the Turner's to astound, but there were so many others to marvel at too. There were bound to be a few that disappointed. I would have liked to see more contemporary work from artists who use the medium with exquisite expression and skill. It is such a difficult medium - and I speak as someone who tries - and the very best use it with great economy and power Tracy Emin's bath-tub daubings did not impress.

Gerald Porter

Visiting the exhibition was a true insight.I have been practising the art of watercolours for many years now and it was not really taught in the nineteen sixties or seventies, as the catalogue points out. So 'finding out the hard way', was trial and error. What the present show does is to "confirm the elasticity of the medium" and re affirm the position of this 'rather second rate technique' to the highest escheleons of Art. The arrangement of the exhibition displays a confident and vibrant approach to orientating the viewer to see this art form in it's context, throughout history, up to the present day.The early acknowledgment of mapping plus the very exquisite work of Rachel Pedder- Smith points up the 'fine art' tradition blended with the accuracy of the medium. Works on show display the versality of this much maligned medium, which is distinctive throughout the whole of British and Continental history. Such Modern works by Peter Doig and Christopher Le Brun contrast well with the more lurid works by Tracey Emin. However, the heart of the show contains many excellent examples by Burne Jones and the 18th and 19th 'landscape traditions'.We see examples by Thomas Girtin, who would 'as rightly pointed out', have overshadowed Turner' had he survived. Work by Richard Parkes Bonnington also evoke atmospheric Verona as well. The more contemporary displays, are well handled and show the depth of the medium, with some magnificent works by Edward Burra and the startling medical illustations used during the First World War. This is a landmark exhbition, re- asserting the importance of the 'Art of Watercolour'; the only detraction being the omission of work by David Hockney, who as a contemporary, deserves a mention in the luminaries of 21st cent watercolours. I am travelling again with my students to illuminate them and introduce them to some of the lesser known and acknowledged masters of the art,thanks to the Tate.


I was drawn to the exhibition because I enjoyed Sheila Hancock's tv watercolour series. However, I was disappointed with the pictures selected except for a few. It was good to see Queen V's painting satchel and Turners paints. Tracey Emin's small offerings made me angry as I could see no skill, they amounted to no more than a coffee cup stained scrap of rubbish. The paint splattered plastic sheet was unworthy. However, Neil Tait's piece "Country Booby" intrigued me and I'd love to know what it symbolised.(Acrylic though). I managed to cheer myself up by visiting the main gallery and I'm now a fan of Peter Doig.

John belcher

I visited the watercolour exhibition 25th febuary my impression was it was Well presented I liked the wow factor of the modern art at the finish it excited the eye after the intricate detail of the previous rooms.

Pat Doyle


Janice Rothwell

As with previous comment really enjoyed the historical perspective on the development of watercolour. I did not on this occasion use the headphones - a mistake and I will visit again to do so. Not so sure about the more modern work - but maybe it will grow on me!

Sue Bates

As a watercolour painter I was knocked out by the exhibition. Firstly the range and the history, albeit some tempera and some mixed with gouache but never the less essentially colour with water. The hanging and displays were excellent allowing plenty of room and time to view, we were booked for 11 am and felt we had time and space to really look. ( Unlike the ghastly expereince at the Gaugin). Excellently lit and spaced on the wall too. Rooms well sectioned with logical explanations of the grouping.

the audio guide excellent too.

The last room a little too eclectic, there must be better watercolourists than that working to day. Mike Chaplin's interiors for example, I know representational but fabulous technique, Dennis Hill from Broadstone.

I loved every minute and it has given watercolour a terrific boost as far as appreciation and understanding. It has given me a practicing and practising watercolourist a new lease of think to try out some different ideas. Well done a big bouquet to Tate Britain.

Sue Bates

I also agree with Curtis Tappenden, where was Hugh Casson? And I thought Emin - although interesting in many other ways , was out of place in this company!But these a niggles from a fabulous day out.

Sophie Larroque

What is handy, drying quickly, with a wide range of colours ? Watercolours who may illustrate botanical and animal foreign countries close to the contemporary patient work of Rachel Pebbles-Smith about beans, "broken faces" of the harmful WW1 and poetry. The room about the watercolours technic (wet-in-wet and Dry-brush) is interesting. Thank you

Helen Fuggle

Loved the enormous pink flamingo against a tiny landscape, and 90% of everything. Would have liked to have seen more war artists eg Edward Bawden.

Gerald Godfrey

I had come to the Tate to look at Turner and Blake. I had not intended to view the Watercolour exhibition, but managed to go in briefly. I intend to revisit the gallery when I have time to see the show properly. Superficially, I was amazed at what could be achieved with watercolour, which I had always thought was a medium which severely restricted the scope of the artist.

Ann Martin

I enjoyed the exhibition, all except the 'modern' room, there is so much choice out there, why include Emin? It would have been good to see non-professional artists included in this section, the host of talent in this country is over-whelming, we did not need to suffer the way we had to! I was delighted to see Blake, Dadd and Palmer included, the strength of their work, the way they applied paint puts the modern art you displayed to shame! Have we lost the way to use this wonderful medium, no we have not, so next time please let us see some really good examples.

Linda Nissen Samuels

As a watercolourist, i felt there wasn't enough contemporary work by artists such as Elizabeth Blackadder. The history was very interesting but the true technique of watercolour really developed into the non opaque translucent colours, in the last century. I would have been happier to see less "names" and more representative work of current watercolour specialists.


Liked the exhibition more than I had been led to believe I would. The chronological arrangement worked for me as did the range of artists shown. Perhaps a complementary exhibition at Tate Modern would have satisfied those who wanted more modern works. Personally I felt the balance was right.

Richard & A...

Not all the Watercolour exhibits were to our taste. We enjoyed the "more traditional" works, the Turners and Girtons,the maps and the natural history. The more modern works were of a mixed bag as far as we were concerned. Some put a whole new perspective on the of watercolour for me; and unfortunately I don't include the plastic spoon and the twigs in that category! However, art is always about individual taste, and we believe that the exhibition catered for the majority.

Vivien Peterborough

I can only repeat what has been said - I visit most exhibitions and this was disappointing especially the last two rooms. Pink plastic and a spoon on the wall - really Tate can do better!

Marquis Sterett

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Henri R

Water Colours is simply delightful. After reading Klaus Kertess's piece in TateEtc. last month I was looking forward to the visit: it deserves several. The lay-out is inspiring, a discovery journey. My favs are probably Inner Vision and War, the latter a complete revelation of works I ignored all about (what can be more poignant than Soldiers at Rye?). Karla Black's Opportunity for Girls is, for this boy, more difficult to approach however I will visit again.

Barbara Burge

I entirely agree about Cotman - 2 rather unrepresentative paintings from this master, who seems to me our contemporary with his blocks of colour. The Golden Age of water colur - Francis Towne, Girtin and Roberts was very under-represented, and only one Samuel Palmer! The curators were too keen to get people to like the medium for non-watercolour subjects and methods. I like Edward Burra very much, and would have preferred more of his landscapes to the figure paintings shown. I took a group of amateur watercolourists who were universal in their condemnation of the last room. I said - Don't get upset! But they persist in saying their grandchildren could do better etc. I agree that some of these items wouldn't grace my walls if given to me - but they are conceptual, not figurative. Just ignore them, they're meant to jolt the mind, not please the eye.

A good show - but a bit timid in pandering to those who are dead set sagainst this luminous art.

John Tennant

Mixed feelings about the exhibition. Being in chronological order was helpful. I found the late 20th/early 21st century exhibits disappointing. I am not an expert, merely an enthusiatic amateur, and found it sad that twigs, simple circles and "pictures" one could hardly see represented todays artists whereas I know there are current artists who paint landscapes every bit as good as Turner.