Friday, May 21, 2021

Review: 209th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours

It was lovely to view the Annual Exhibition of the Royal institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI) this week in the company of a lot of older people who'd all had both jabs! I

I reached maximum protection on Tuesday and it's amazing what a difference it makes to the inclination to travel and go places without feeling very anxious!  

View of the West Gallery and the 209th Annual Exhibition of the RI

This post covers:

  • how to visit or view the exhibition
  • my main 'takeaways' from my visit on Wednesday
  • a summary of the people winning various awards and prizes
  • a note about the candidates for membership this year

View the Exhibition

The Annual Exhibition 2021 of 439 artworks is on at the Mall Galleries until 29th May (hours: 11am - 4pm). You need to book a timeslot to get into the Gallery.

You can view my photographs of the exhibition in three albums - one for each gallery - on my public Facebook Page (i.e. you don't need to be a member to take a look). These are:

West Gallery

Main Observations

The following are a summary of my observations at the exhibition.

East Gallery - what you see as you enter the exhibition via the one way system

The BIGGEST exhibition of watercolour paintings in the world

Rosa Sepple, the President of the RI described the show to me as "the biggest exhibition of watercolour paintings in the world" and I think she's right. I can't think of any other that's bigger.

East Gallery - The Mall wall

This year there are 439 paintings on display in the West, East and North Galleries of the Mall Galleries.
  • They use all forms of water media
  • There is a wide and diverse range of styles
  • All genres are covered - although some better than others. 
  • The standard is generally very good - with some exceptional work on display as well
If there's anywhere else which is displaying more than 439 paintings in water colours in one show please let me know
East Gallery

This is a truly OPEN EXHIBITION.

This year, the RI had a record number of 1,735 artworks in water colours submitted to its annual open exhibition.
More importantly of those selected for the exhibition:
  • 229 paintings (52%) were from RI members (who are allowed up to 6 in an exhibition - but have to pass selection too!)
  • 210 paintings (48%) are by non-members
Hence, those non-members submitting artworks to this exhibition in future can be confident that they'll be given a fair share of the total works exhibited. After that it's all about measuring up to the standard of work on display.

As the Catalogue highlights
It is, therefore, solely by the talents displayed in his Works, that the Artist can claim any preference and that the unfriended man of merity, who is unknown to the Public., will receive equal attention, and will have a fair opportunity to publicly display his Works.... It is only upo the broad and simple principle of personal merit that this Society s foune, and its Regulations formed
from the RI's original Mandate of 1832

I highly RECOMMEND this exhibition to ALL those who paint in watercolour media - no matter what your subject or style. I'm a big supporter of those art societies which try hard to recognise that their annual exhibitions are 

  • a major way of helping 'emerging artists' with their careers - and 
  • finding good quality new members for the society in the future.

It's not easy to become a member of the RI - and many have to be persistent before it happens - but applying every year and getting selected and selling is a good way of recommending your art to those who choose new members.

I also recommend that you visit the exhibition - in whichever way works best for you at present - and look at all the artwork on display to see whether your artwork might "make a mark" next year.

LOTS of Lockdown Paintings

We've been through a momentous period of our live. Moreover, lots of artists have not had exhibitions and other 'normal' activities competing for their attention.

As a result, unsurprisingly, there are a LOT of paintings done in lockdown and LOTS of paintings "about lockdown" - and places close to home, noticing nature more, loss and challenge. These vary enormously but if visiting - in person or online - it's worth looking out for these.

People have been doing very different things - and in particular looking at the places they were contained in - whether that's their house or their local area - in more detail than ever before.

Mark Elsmore has created a spledid set of paintings of his local area - many of which were themed around the pandemic.  The lane (middle left) is called Whitty Lane, the Fruits (berries) of Ivy (Hedera helix ssp. helix) (bottom left) look amazingly like the cluster of Covid-19, the top two are about the containment near to his home, the lines in the field being a reminder of what time of year it is etc....

He needs to be recorded talking about his lockdown themes for posterity!

Mark Elsmore and his lockdown paintings

Boy with a Rabbit by Cherryl Fountain

Meanwhile Cherryl Fountain - who is an artist I love with an amazing career - is never averse to painting every last detail of her still life subject and painted the cormer of her sitting room plus dog, toys, plants and pics - and every pattern in the room. I'm guessing that kept her absorbed for a long time.....

Whereas Rosa Sepple, the President has painted three painting with a not a party frock, nightclub or any glitter in sight. Instead we have coastal villages and plants - it's looking like a completely different life.

Paintings by Rosa Sepple

There are LOTS of Young / Emerging Artists exhibiting  

The far end of the North Gallery contains lots of artwork by Young Artists - including the artists who won the President's Prize for a Young Artist last year and this year.

The RI is one of the art societies based at the Mall Galleries which is proactive in supporting young artists at the beginning of their careers.

North Gallery end wall - Presidents Choice Award to Young Art 2021
- three paintings top left by Jack Haslam

North Gallery end wall - Presidents Choice Award to Young Art 2020
- centre three paintings with yellow background by Lucy Pulvers

I would however comment - following a discussion on FB this week - that maybe art societies need also to think about awards / prizes for the more mature Emerging Artist e.g. for those who have completed less than five years since art school or starting to work seriously at art as a career. This is particularly relevant to many older women who only begin to engage seriously with art after rearing children.

Just a thought....

Richa Vara with her painting Two Girls (After Vuillard) - in the North Gallery

LOTS of red spots on the wall

The first day is always a good day to see how the artwork is received. I saw lots of people buying paintings and lots of red spots going up on the walls next to painting which had sold.

I think maybe a lot of people have been saving a lot of money while stuck at home for months and would rather like to continue the challenge of making their walls look good - with more art!

(This continues a trend started with the recent RBA exhibition which apparently also had excellent sales!)

I'll be posting two more calls for entries in the next week. Those wanting to sell their art should remember the urge to buy is strong at the moment! 

More affordable art is selling well

I took this photo after a couple stood nearby discussing which painting to buy - and I guessed it was this one - and I was right! It got its red spot about 5-10 minutes after I took the photo! Note however that it was priced at £395. 

What I'm observing is a lot of 'impulse' buys of artwork under £500. This is the price range I always think of as "enough to splurge without being silly".

On the Benches, Broadstairs by Sally Barton

Lots of people visiting the exhibition - safely

It was lovely to walk into the Galleries and for it to feel almost like "before". 

That's because of the number of visitors the exhibition is getting.

I think the combination of vaccination rate in the UK and the control on how many people can be admitted in each time slot

The only things which were missing were the hospitality associated with the tables of chairs and the café. However since the café can operate again now we've passed the third hurdle, hopefully it will be open again soon. I know it's very much appreciated by all those who come long distances to visit this exhibition - and those of us who need to sit down from time to time!

I nearly bought a Paul Banning!

I was having a good look at the paintings by Paul Banning - for the last time - when I noticed one of them seemed to be very reasonably priced, checked my catalogue and confirmed the price - and decided to make a decision towards the end of my visit.

I was not surprised when I went back and found a more appropriate price on the wall when I got back. So I'm now not the owner of Dog Walking at Dedham. 

Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours - Prizes & Awards 209th Exhibition

You can see the images of the prizewinning paintings in the Mall Galleries blog posts:

which also provide explanations of each painting and, for some, a video of the artist

Links in 

  • the titles of the artwork go to the image of the artwork on the Mall Galleries website
  • the artist's name go to their website (if it can be found!)


Group of works by Teresa Lawlor

  • The Leathersellers' Prize: Kew's Princess of Wales Conservatory by L.C. Cariou (£1,000 awarded by The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers to an artist aged between 18 and 30 years old) 
  • The President's Choice Award: Someone Everyone by Jack Haslam (An award of £750 for the most deserving work in the exhibition, donated by a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI) and judged by the President of the RI, Rosa Sepple) 
Paintings by Jack Haslam (North Gallery)

  • The James Fletcher-Watson RI Memorial Award: Ernie's Beach by Brian Smith RI (£500 for the best use of watercolour in the exhibition)  
  • The Richard Plincke RI Prize for Colour: Dancer No.87 by Zi Ling RI (An award of £250 for creative use of colour)

Paintings by Zi Ling

Watercolour Paintings of Trees by Ian Sidaway
Paintings by Sarah Granville

  • The Chaoshan Watercolour Award: Scarborough Beach by Louise Saward (£250 awarded by Chinese artist, Professor Li Xiaocheng, for the best classically inspired watercolour)


  • The Winsor & Newton Product Prize: Green Stylus No.1 by Rika Newcombe -(£1,000 worth of Winsor & Newton art materials) 
  • The Cass Art Prize: Gold Stripe 2021 by Carol Ryder (A prize of £200 of art supplies from Cass Art, awarded to a work demonstrating the most innovative use of colour)  
  • The John Purcell Paper Prize: Inside by Iman Howard (Paper to the value of £100 awarded to a work chosen by John Purcell) 
  • The Schmincke Prize: London Sunrise by Brendan Smith (A Horadam Aquarell Artists’ Watercolours set to an outstanding exhibitor)
  • The Escoda Barcelona Award: Hanging Out the Washing by Roger Dellar RI PS ROI (A set of Escoda's finest brushes for an outstanding landscape painting)- I'm afraid I don't understand how this painting qualifies for this prize.
  • The Megan Fitzoliver Brush Award: Gorse by Ann Blockley RI (A trophy, named The Pipe Fish, and a bespoke brush awarded for a work that most inspires a connection with the natural world)
  • The Frank Herring Easel Award: Out of the Blue by Kimberley Walker (An easel presented for an outstanding work in the exhibition by Frank Herring & Son) 


  • The Anthony J Lester Art Critic Award: There's No Place by Derek Robertson (A certificate of commendation for an outstanding work chosen by the art critic and broadcaster Anthony J Lester)
  • The Debra Manifold RI Memorial Award: Horizon by Delia Cardnell RI (Presented by the Linda Blackstone Gallery, an award for the most innovative work in the exhibition

Candidates for Membership

The RI is one of those which lines up the artwork of all those who have been selected as Candidates for Membership on one wall - next to one another. It makes it easy for members who are voting.

I'm still puzzled as to why some get selected to be Candidates and others are not.

The Candidates this year are David Gleeson, Gary Cook, Jordan Peers, Martha Zmpounou, Matthew Phinn, Teresa Lawler, Tim Gustard - and you can see their artwork below.

 (Teresa Lawlor's work can be seen in the section about prizes).

ARCHIVE: RI Annual Exhibition 2007-2021

These are most of my previous blog posts about this exhibition

  • 204th Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours
The purpose of this video isn't to give you an in-depth view of all the paintings so much as to give you: an idea of the overall size of the exhibitionand a notion of how big the paintings are that get selected via the open entrya view of the paintings that were selected this year
This exhibition has always been very popular with the provincial art societies whose members arrive in droves - on coaches!

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