In an era defined by being bold and, innovative many would argue that the more muted and delicate art form that is watercolour holds no place. Modern-day artists tend to favour the likes of oil, acrylic and gouache, which are highly pigmented and offer an array of exciting textures. However, these mediums would cease to exist without watercolour, and the reality is that the role of historical watercolours is so much more than just art.
Watercolours have impacted and helped mould the art world for centuries, with watercolour as we know it today dating back to the Renaissance. This romantic medium would go on to influence artists across time, from Albrecht Dürer to J.M.W Turner. For many artists, watercolour facilitated a new era of artistic expression, freedom and abstraction that had been previously discouraged.
Since this time, watercolours have continued to be appreciated for their aesthetic beauty and, in recent years, the insight they provide into a world before photography. So now, as we hurtle into the future, we must ask what role will watercolour play in that future?
Watercolours are part of the fabric that weaves together our past, present and future, and we must continue to preserve and protect these fragile parts of our history from the hands of time. Already countless watercolours have faded beyond recognition from exposure to light, humidity and temperature changes. For many works, the choice is between being indefinitely hidden from view for their own protection or accepting they will be lost to time.
Thankfully, however, there is now another option to help preserve the all-important role watercolours must play as we move forward. With UK-based charity Watercolour World‘s work, countless pre-1900 watercolours can be accessed digitally via their online database.
Since 2016, this organisation has committed to protecting watercolours and securing their place in the future. Watercolour World believes in the importance of preserving these key artistic and historical documents and, to date, have digitised over 80,000 pre 20th-century watercolours. These pieces are more than just art, they are a vital part of our history and, as such, are the key to our future. Watercolours help us understand how we have evolved and grown as a society, and it is important that generations to come have access to this wealth of knowledge.
Without keeping watercolours in controlled conditions, it is impossible to preserve original works, but with the help of technology, they can live on in the digital space. Because of the work of charities like Watercolour World, people now and in the future can benefit from having access to our collective history. It has never been more important that we look to the past to guide us into our future in such an ever-changing world.
Watercolours are beautiful, hypnotic and have an almost ethereal quality captured in the free movement of the water and pigment. These delicate artworks must be kept safe not only for their aesthetic value but, more importantly, their historical value. As we move towards the future, the role of these historical watercolours is ultimately that of storytelling, providing us with a unique glimpse into what was.
If you would like to see more from Watercolour World, their incredible free database is available to view on their website.