Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The RWS / Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2008 invites entries

Bridge by Julia Farrer
Winner of the £15,000 First Prize
The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2007

You may have known it as the Singer and Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition - but it now has a new name and venue - and is inviting entries for 2008. Now in its 21st year, the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition is a very prestigious watercolour competition with the largest prize for a watercolour painting - and it has changed.

As from 2008, if you're planning on entering the most significant annual competition in watercolour - or maybe just visiting the exhibition to admire the successful entries - you better get used to its new name - the RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition and the new location for the exhibition at the Bankside Gallery, the home of the Royal Watercolour Society on the South Bank.

This means that as from 2008, the RWS for the very first time now:
  • sponsors and hosts the competition with the highest value prizes in watercolour - The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition
  • awards the most distinguished award - The Turner Award for watercolour.
Why the change?

The merchant bank Singer and Friedlander sponsored the competition for many years - hence the name - but were taken over by an Icelandic bank Kaupthing who decided not to continue with the sponsorship. However not before they produced a jolly nice page on their website about the 2007 competition and all the prizewinners (with images).

So what's happening to the competition in 2008?

The Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) are the new sponsors. Accordingly, the venue for the exhibition moves to its home at the Bankside Gallery (on the South Bank next to the Tate Modern).

Location of the Bankside Gallery
- inbetween Hopton Street and the Thames Path

Exhibition dates for 2008 are set for Wednesday 10th September to Monday 21st September.

The RWS very much sees the annual competition and exhibition as a wonderful opportunity to boost its traditional role and work in promoting watercolour as a fine art medium.

The RWS defines 'watercolour painting' as painting in a water-based medium on a paper-based support. You can read about the latest Royal Watercolour Society - Spring Show in yesterday's post.

The competition sponsors provide very impressive prizes totalling £25,000. This makes the competition in effect the watercolour equivalent of the BP Portrait Award. Like that award and its association with the National Portrait Gallery, it's good to see this competition becoming associated with the most prominent organisation devoted to watercolour in the UK.

Every year, the judges will include the President of the RWS, a distinguished Critic, a distinguished artist and representatives of the Sunday Times.

You should be able to find extensive coverage of the competition in The Sunday Times Culture section - but not, as yet, on the web it seems, although the announcement for the 2007 competition came at the beginning of March. The announcement is however already posted on the competitions page of the University of the Arts, London!

Self Portrait in English National Opera Jacket
Jennifer McRae
Joint winner of the 3rd Prize in the 2007 Competition

Invitation to submit work

You can read the summary of the invitation to submit work on the Future Exhibitions page of the Bankside Gallery website
The RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition invites artists to submit works to the 2008 competition.

The competition, now in its 21st year, is the largest watercolour competition in the UK and is one of the only remaining prizes to celebrate the diversity and beauty of the frequently undervalued medium of watercolour. The RWS/ Sunday Times Watercolour Competition is a celebration of the water-soluble medium, whether it is an abstract, figurative or landscape piece, all works produced in water based mediums, watercolour, acrylic and gouache on a paper support are eligible.

The RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition offers the highest valued prizes in the United Kingdom by awarding a total of £25,000 to artists who demonstrate a high level of skill and creativity.

Artists can submit up to three works at regional venues throughout the UK in June. The deadline for entries is in London on 20th and 21st June 2008. Entry is £15 per work or free to full-time students.

Among the judges for this year’s competition will be:
Brian Allen, Director of Studies at Paul Mellon Institute
Frank Whitford, Art Critic for the Sunday Times
Richard Sorrell, President, RWS

For application forms artists should send a SAE to: ‘The Watercolour Competition’, Parker Harris Partnership, PO Box 279, Esher, Surrey, KT10 8YZ. Forms and information are also downloadable from For further information please call 01372 462190 or email
This is the webpage for the competition at Parker Harris - BUT it doesn't yet contain the information or forms for download - hence why I reproduced the summary from the Bankside Gallery above. What's even more odd is that the site doesn't even acknowledge the change in sponsor, still talks about the exhibition being at the Mall Galleries and details collection points for 2007 - which in my view is really misleading.

I've refrained from commenting on previous occasions but, yet again, as with other competitions that Parker Harris administer the important details are slow to appear on the Parker Harris website which, from memory, has been "under development" for a long time (2+ years or is it longer?). It's certainly one of the most inaccessible and difficult to navigate websites that I need to consult from time to time!

At the time of writing there are just two months and a few days left before the deadline for entry/collection for the 2008 competition. To not yet recognise important changes - like sponsorship, venue and collection points - and not to have the details available on a fully functional website at this stage doesn't look very professional and certainly isn't very helpful in my view. Given the similar delays in relation to other competitions, I suspect the answer may well be that Parker Harris are in urgent need of a website which is very much simpler and very much easier to administer! They don't need 'Flash' but they do need to be more responsive, have really good signposting of information on their site and overt recognition of the sort of time-scales that artists work to when planning their work. Let's hope this very odd situation get's resolved pretty quickly.

Interested? Curious? Want to know more?
  • Read The Times Online commentary on last year's prizewinners Pictures of every stripe.
  • To see last year's prizewinners, other than the ones in this post, you need to go and look at the Kaupthing site here.
[August 2008 UPDATE: Read who won the prizes, who was shortlisted and who was selected for the exhibition here RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition - prizewinners and selected artists]



  1. Wow! What a treasure trove of wonderful watercolors. I love the painting, Temporarily Permanent (or was it the other way around...that's one thing that bugs me about blogger is you can't see the pictures when you're commenting...sorry for the rant) and most of the others you posted. Also those gorgeous leaves on the next post. It's really a treat to see such technical mastery AND brilliant ideas. So much of WC in the U.S. favors technique over substance.

  2. In my view the Internet has created huge advances in the appreciation of media eg watercolour or genre painting eg portraits.

    Having images of leading work on the internet has really opened up the scope for different countries and different levels of practice (from professional to hobby artist) to appreciate much better the differences in how art is approached in different places and at different levels.

    It's one of the reasons why I feature leading art societies and major art competitions on this blog.

    For me, I know from lots of the comments left on such posts, that it really helps to promote the use of media - which of course what this competition and the RWS are about.

    I'm hoping that, in due course, societies and competitions generally will give over more of their time to thinking through how they can best present work on the Internet for that wider level of appreciation by all those who never make it to the gallery.

  3. I've only just noticed what you said in the competition leaflet:

    "The RWS defines 'watercolour painting' as painting in a water-based medium on a paper-based support. "

    You may want to give readers a heads-up as this is a CHANGE from previous years. Previously the restriction was simply not canvas, and I had work on board exhibited in the show last year. It appears that board will be inadmissable with the RWS as the new sponsor.


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