Maria Pia Delledonne



Home - Historical information about watercolor




Shores of the River Nile,1300 B.C. ,the Egyptians illustrated their books,(history,magic,science,religion...),even the famous "Book of the Dead",with the colors  to watercolour.

Egypt-The pyramidis of Cheope,Chefren,Micerino

The tecnique was used,(who would have thought it?),a little everywhere...Greece,Rome,Byzantium,Syria...to paint miniatures,at first the opaque watercolur was used,then,in the Charlemagne period,came alternated also the use of that transparent one.The epochs about which we are talking,completely different in terms of customs and habits...from Egyptian to the low Middle Age to the Renaissance...are united through the realisation of manuscripts using the technique of watercolour.Little lines to help understand how  Ancient  this technique is and how Its Conservation throughout time is Perfect.Looking at the past,it is certainly necessary to stop at the 16th century,where we encounter the figure of Albrecht Dürer,the most important painter and etcher of the epoch.


Albrecht Durer-"Leveret"

Albrecht Dürer  -Young Hare -1502





Albrecht Dürer  - The great lawn - 1503


Dürer during his life,over and above his drawings ,books,woodcuttings and etchings,also painted almost 200 pictures of which 86 are watercolours and his first famous picture is,precisely that,a watercolour.In the spring of 1804 the first society of watercolourists in the world was founded in England,"The Society of Painters in Watercolour" to which Queen Victoria,in 1881, added the title "Royal"The exhibition put on a year after the foundation,(1805),was a success of public and sales,12,000 people actually bought entry tickets to see the watercolours!
In 1864 to Barcelona it came founded the firs association of Spanish watercolourist called "Centre of watercolourist".The promoter was Mariano Fortuny,an extraordinary watercolourist,certainly one of the greatest of the 19th century.Fortuny drew and painted,(in oils and watercolors),with an extraordinary talent and technique,and made the painting of watercolor known in Spain,promoting it also in Italy and France.In the Usa in 1866 the "American Society of  Watercolours" was founded.The technique was already well-known and appreciated at this time,because Eakins and Homer,who were two of the most celebrated painters in oil,also painted with watercolours.Amongst the greatest watercolourists of the Usa we shouldn't forget Whistler,Prendergast,Sargent,(born in Italy),and Cassat.In Madrid in 1878 the "Society of Watercolourists"was founded.In Germany it was from the second half of the 19th century,that was begun to appreciate the painting to watercolor truly,(nobody in fact had until the succeeded Dürer!),a technique which was used also from some Impressionists like Morisot,Jongkind,Boudin and of course Cézanne,an artist who,however,went further than Impressionism and represented Post-Impressionism,creating the bases of Cubism.If we look at a watercolor painting by Paul Cézanne we can see how the technique and the style he uses belongs to the present.It is also necessary to remember some of the greatest  english watercolourists of the 18th and 19th century:Girtin,De Wint,Cox,Turner,Varley,Cristall,Fielding...

David Cox -  Street scene with lighthouse - about 1829-32

David Cox -  Street scene with lighthouse - about 1829/32





David Cox - windmill

David Cox - Windmill -




Peter De Wint - Bridge over a Branch of the Wytham,Lincolnshire -


Peter De Wint - Bridge over a Branch of the Wytham,Lincolnshire -



Peter De Wint - View of Cromer -  Peter De Wint - View of Cromer -




Peter De Wint - Near Mill Hill - about 1820/25

Peter De Wint - Near Mill Hill - about 1820-25




Peter De Wint - Knatresborough castle

Peter De Wint - Knatresborough castle 




Turner was a very talendet painter,the watercolours carried out during his visit to Venice are
 splendid  with their light effects and truly remarkable colours.


Joseph Mallord William Turner -  Venice,Storm at sunset - about 1840/50

Joseph Mallord William Turner -  Venice,Storm at sunset - about 1840/50



Turner - The scarlet sunset -  1830/40  Turner - The scarlet sunset -  1830/40



Turner - West Gate-Canterbury - about 1792

Turner - West Gate-Canterbury - about 1792 


Particular mention should be made of Richard Bonington who was an exceptional artist in creating country scenes and figures and it  was really the value of his watercolors which spread  this technique in  France where he lived for some years and where in 1775 started to use the word "acquarelle" instead of the english word "watercolour"Jacob Alt lived between two worlds between the 1700 and the 1800,and he was watercolourist of enormous capacity and creativity.


Bonington - Verona,Erbs square - about 1826/27

Bonington - Verona,Erbs square - about 1826/27


Jacob Alt - Steyr in Upper Austria

Jacob Alt - Steyr  in Upper Austria


It does not go then forgotten John Cotman,one of the best landscape watercolourists of the 19th century,expert in wet-on-wet watercolours,he had a fantastic capacity to harmonise colours and create contrasts.Illustrious watercolourist  also Rudolf von Alt who in the course of his life carried out about 6000 watercolour paintings,a sensitive creator of atmosphere,also working to ample strokes of the brusch,he succeeded to evidence his love for the detail with elegance and style.


Cotman - House in Epsom - 1800

Cotman - House in Epsom - 1800



Rudolf von Alt  - Tivoli - 1836

Rudolf von Alt  - Tivoli - 1836


In the 18th century it is then necessary to cite Ducros,another great watercolourist;in Switzerland,(together with Aberli),he became known for his landscapes,he was able to create an infinite range of colours starting with ochre,siena and azure,therefore to confuse he who it was not expert and to push him to think that it is was a painting to oil instead that a watercolor.

Abraham Ducros - Nocturnal tempest to Cefalù - about 1800

Abraham Ducros - Nocturnal tempest to Cefalù - about 1800



Abraham Ducros - Shipyard in Castellamare di Stabia - About 1794

Abraham Ducros - Shipyard in Castellamare di Stabia - About 1794



Ducros - Washerwomen in Tivoli - about 1780

Ducros - Washerwomen in Tivoli - about 1780


The Dutch painter Jongkind,who together with Boudin,was one of the principal promoters of Impressionism,painted also splendid watercolours from the accurate drawing and generally the theme was marine.During the first half of the 20th century one diffused,also,the tendency to paint to watercolor with more color prejudicing the trasparency and therefore imitating oil paintings.The watercolourists derived something,also, from various movements that were diffused in the first half of the century ,(between which also very vivid  colours and typical contrasts of the Fauvists),remaining but distant from figurative art.

A curiosity:the first abstract watercolor in history was painted by Wassily Kandinsky in 1910,with the title "Cossacks".
In this brief historical conversation on the watercolor,you can not forget Vincent van Gogh,(my favorite artist!).In his short life he produced 150 watercolors!

Vincent van Gogh - Yellow house - 1888

Vincent van Gogh - Yellow house - 1888




Vincent van Gogh -  Gate in the Paris rampe - 1886

Vincent van Gogh -  Gate in the Paris rampe - 1886


The impressionist's palette inspired,in Paris,Vincent van Gogh.His new palette is evident in the representation of the painting "Gate in the Paris rampe",one of the entrances through  the 30 km  of walls around Paris.These defenses of Paris were reproduced in four watercolours by Van Gogh.Finally,a mention of Carl Larsson,a Swedish exceptionale watercolorist.
Through watercolor ,he was able to describe with elegance ,delicacy,and often with a fine sense  of humor,the moments of everyday life.

Carl Larsson - Spring - 1907

Carl Larsson - Spring -1907


Carl Larsson - The bridge - 1912

Carl Larsson - The bridge - 1912


So,a quick and superficial look on the watercolor's evolution in the time,that with the images,I hope will allow,at all,to consider the charm and the qualitative value of  this fantastic art form.An art  whose importance is comparable with the oil painting.



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