Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolour

Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolour was an exhibition held at Tate Britain in 2002 (4 July - 29th September 2002). It was the exhibition that inspired David Hockney to take up watercolour after he had previously dismissed watercolour as "wishy washy" and "only suitable for Sunday painters".  Not because it was a brilliant exhibition (it wasn't - it had some critics) but because it showed Hockney some of the sublime paintings which really demonstrate what can be done with watercolour.

(see my previous post About David Hockney and Watercolour about what he did after he changed his mind! )

Just so that we know what we're missing when watercolour exhibitions lack an emphasis on traditional 'pure' watercolour paint, this post will provide access to
  • what was said about the exhibition 
  • paintings by Girtin in the Tate's collection.
Thomas Girtin was born in London in 1775, the same year as J.M.W. Turner, and died in 1802, at the age of twenty-seven. The art of watercolour was transformed during Girtin's brief life. This was especially marked in landscape watercolours, which grew in scale and ambition. Led by Girtin and Turner, watercolourists abandoned careful stained drawings for a more dramatic style of painting that captured moods and a range of light and weather effects. Not everyone welcomed the rapid technical changes, especially as revolution and war threatened the established political order. For a brief period, however, watercolour painting was the epitome of modern art, and the landscapes of Girtin and Turner were welcomed as a national triumph.

Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolour: Room guide

The following are introductions to the rooms within the exhibition:

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland c.1797–9 by Thomas Girtin

Thomas Girtin - Dover - Google Art Project
Dover by Thomas Girton
Yale Center for British Art

The White House at Chelsea (1800) by Thoms Girtin

What we need to be focusing on - in art competitions and open exhibitions which "say" they are about watercolour - is finding people who can have the same impact on the overall direction of contemporary art using traditional watercolour paint.

Otherwise traditional watercolour paint will just go back to being the medium that is not well regarded by those who think they know better!

...and that would not only be ignorant - it would also be a big mistake.

263 artworks by Thomas Girtin 

The Tate has 264 drawings and paintings by Thomas Girtin in its collection and most of them are watercolours.

The most famous is 'The White House at Chelsea' (see above) where the focus of the painting is left unpainted
According to an anecdote, 'A dealer went one day to Turner, and after looking round at all his drawings in the room, had the audacity to say, "I have a drawing out there in my hackney coach, finer than any of yours".Turner bit his lip, looked first angry, then meditative. At length he broke silence: "Then I tell you what it is. You have got Tom Girtin's White House at Chelsea' ".


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