Does art always have to change?
The watercolour exhibition at the Tate Britain is for the most part an excellent show.
It highlights the special qualities of the medium and the skill and technical achievements of its greatest exponents. Thomas Girtin’s ‘White house Chelsea’ is exhibited besides Turner’s ‘The Blue Rigi’; Ravilious’s ‘Vale of the White Horse’ can be seen alongside Bauden, Piper and Surtherland and Charles Rennie Mackintosh makes an appearance with his view of ‘Fetges ‘1927, part of as series of watercolours painted at the end of his life in the South of France.
From botanical painting in exquisite detail, to Victorian pre-Raphaelite inspired watercolour and with an appearance by Victor Hugo ‘Souvenire of Normandie’ 1859, this exhibition allows the painters who use this too easily disparaged medium, to shine.
Such is the case with Edward Burra (1905-76), an individualistic 20th Century exponent of the medium whose figurative and late landscapes have a rightful place in this review of the best of British Watercolour.
His painting ‘Valley and River Northumberland ‘1972 hangs near to Francis Towne’s “Source of the Arveyron ‘ 1781 for an interesting comparison.
The final rooms however are a disappointment, because it is here that the curators start to ignore the living tradition of contemporary watercolour and instead desperately search around to find examples by the Tate Gallery’s officially designated Contemporary Artists. Thus we have the obligatory appearance of Tracy Emin with some scribbled reminiscences of a week in Berlin and a nod towards Marcel Duchamp by Bethany Huws with her minimalist brushstroke homage to his bicycle wheel assisted readymade.
However it is in the false assumption that all art mediums have to continuously change and evolve that the curators then try to convince the audience to accept Acrylic painting on Canvas, feebly painted twigs, a pigment covered spoon and a sculptural hanging made of Cellophane, Vaseline, hair gel toothpaste, acrylic, emulsion paint and somewhere among all that a bit of watercolour, as a contemporary manifestation of the medium.
Watercolour painting is alive and well in this country and the major showing each year is the Sunday Times Watercolour exhibition. However, if you can ignore its failings, this show at the Tate Gallery is well worth seeing.
Course leader Fine Art.