The South Kensington Museum, later the Victoria and Albert, opened in 1857. The first catalogue of the museum's collection of watercolours was published only nineteen years later in 1876, by which time the museum had acquired nearly 500 watercolours, today the collection numbers many thousands.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: The Landscape Genre
The rise of watercolour painting in Britain was closely tied to a growing acceptance in 18th century Britain of 'landscape' as an appropriate subject for painting. In the 1620s one writer, Edward Norgate, noted that landscape was an art so new to England that he could not 'find it a name'.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: Developing Subjects for Landscape Painting
From the middle of the 18th century a number of British writers sought to define and categorise human responses to natural phenomena, most notably Edmund Burke with his exploration of the 'sublime' and the 'beautiful', and William Gilpin and his theory of the 'picturesque'.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: Depicting the Elements
According to the drawing master, Alexander Cozens, landscape could be codified into three categories: 'Composition', 'Objects' and 'Circumstance'. The last included the seasons, times of day, such as the setting sun, and accidents such as fog, rain or 'the intermixture of the sky, or clouds with the landscape'.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: J M W Turner and John Ruskin
The critic John Ruskin wrote of J.M.W. Turner, 'there were two men associated with Turner in early study, who showed high promise, Cozens and Girtin, and there is no saying what these men might have done had they lived'. J R Cozens died in 1797, Thomas Girtin in 1802. Turner however died in 1851 after a long career characterised by exploration, invention and controversy.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: Architecture as Subject
Architectural topography had its roots in the antiquarian study of buildings of historical interest. A number of architectural painters were in fact first trained as architects but their carefully delineated views increasingly found a wider market among those curious about places unknown to them, or those who enjoyed the already familiar and well loved.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: The Watercolour Societies of the 19th Century
The establishment of exhibition societies was one of the great innovations in artistic life in 18th-century Britain. The Society of Artists opened in 1760 and the Royal Academy held its first exhibition in 1769. Watercolours at these early exhibitions were exhibited as 'drawings' which had been 'stained' or 'tinted'.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: Illlustration into Narrative
The popularity and success of the watercolour societies attracted many illustrators, such as Charles Green, into the field of watercolour painting. Green established his reputation with his illustrations to the novels of Charles Dickens, such as 'Little Nell mending the Puppet's Dress', from The Old Curiosity Shop.
British Watercolours 1750-1900: Still Life & Flower Painting
Still life, the depiction of inanimate objects such as fruit, vegetables, dead game and household objects, became a popular subject for watercolour artists. Still lives appealed to patrons for the simplicity of their subject matter, and were admired above all for the skill of the artist.