The art form we think of today as ‘watercolour’ originated in a variety of practices including cartography, miniature painting and manuscript illumination, examples of which are displayed in the opening room. Watercolour was chosen as a medium for its delicacy and precision, and was utilised for the purpose of recording and retaining information, be it a map demarcating boundaries of ownership or an image glorifying a monarch or a beloved one’s face. Because colour was regarded as an additional tool for drawing and illustration, it was generally applied in a careful and minute way and used to articulate line in conveying information. Early works in watercolour also had an intimate role and were often to be found in manuscripts and folios, or secreted in cases for private viewing. 

It was through the work of itinerant artists such as Anthony van Dyck and Wenceslaus Hollar that genres associated with later watercolour such as topographical landscape began to develop along distinct lines, as will be explored in subsequent sections of the exhibition.