Gouache is a type of water-soluble paint that, unlike watercolour, is opaque so the white of the paper surface does not show through

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  • William Hatherell, 'O, Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?' circa 1912
    William Hatherell
    O, Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? circa 1912
    Gouache on paper
    support: 241 x 178 mm
    Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1913
  • David Jones, 'Sanctus Christus de Capel-y-ffin' 1925
    David Jones
    Sanctus Christus de Capel-y-ffin 1925
    Gouache and drawing on paper
    support: 193 x 133 mm
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983© The estate of David Jones
  • Auguste Herbin, 'Nude' 1960
    Auguste Herbin
    Nude 1960
    Gouache on board
    support: 479 x 381 mm
    Purchased 1962© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

The term gouache was first used in France in the eighteenth century to describe a type of paint made from pigments bound in water-soluble gum, like watercolour, but with the addition of a white pigment in order to make it opaque.

Larger percentages of binder are used than with watercolour, and various amounts of inert pigments such as chalk are added to enhance the opacity. Gouache forms a thicker layer of paint on the paper surface and does not allow the paper to show through. It is often used to create highlights in watercolours.

Today the term gouache is often used loosely to describe any drawing made in body colour. Bodycolour is any type of opaque water-soluble pigment; used by artists from the late fifteenth century. Lead white was used until the introduction of zinc oxide, known as Chinese white, in the nineteenth century.