UK's Tate stages bold Watercolor show

Fri Feb 18, 2011 5:01am EST
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By Caroline Copley

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Often dismissed as pretty landscapes by amateur artists, a new exhibition casts a fresh perspective on watercolor, tracing its versatility as a medium for war artists, draughtsman and intrepid seafarers.

"Watercolor" at the Tate Britain examines 800 years of the medium's history, with more than 200 works from notable masters such as JMW Turner and Thomas Girtin to contemporary artists like Tracey Emin and Anish Kapoor.

But the exhibition also displays works of lesser-known specialists employed on sea voyages of discovery in the 17th and 18th century to produce intricate drawings of exotic fauna and flora.

"These works were considered to be a branch of knowledge and scientific enquiry rather than an art form in its own right," said Alison Smith, the exhibition's curator.

Denied the status of artists working in other mediums, such as oil, practitioners were often considered jobbing artists and found themselves working in arduous conditions.

Sydney Parkinson, who traveled on Captain Cook's voyages of discovery, died at sea from dysentery, while Edward Bawden endured temperatures of 112 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade when painting on location in Egypt.


Cheap, clean and portable, some of the earliest practitioners of watercolor were military craftsman sent to document overseas battles. The fluidity of the medium allowed artists to go beyond representation and offer a subjective interpretation.   Continued...