Here we are again moving gently through watercolour history. Being inspired by the work of others is a good thing, being overwhelmed by the influence of a single artist is probably not… I personally feel that influences should be absorbed and digested, intermixed and subsumed by your own muse. That said copying an artist you admire is often worthwhile. I do warn that sometimes it can lessen your appreciation of an artist, rather like knowing how a magic trick is done, it can remove the mystery. If you have stumbled upon this then Part one is here: Watercolour Inspirations so I will not rehash my intro here. We start in around 1820.
This is by Clarkson Stanfield the master of panoramas along with is business partner David Roberts. Rather overlooked now he has a wonderful sense
of drama. Many artists of the period worked in the theatre as designers and painters. Then of course the Designer was the Painter, unlike today where
the Designer is better dressed and connected but less talented and the painter a mere tradesperson.
I had always thought this to be by Thomas Shotter Boys, but research tells me it is by his contemporary Richard Parkes Bonnington. Compared with
Turner and Girtin and their interest in romantic ruins we are right up to date. This painting is all about modern life, the lines are cleaner and crisper
the people are well dressed and fashionable… no room for yokels in their smocks here! Bonnington was born in 1802 and sadly died in 1828, he was a
young Turner in the making, the influence of whom is I think quite pronounced in his work.
Here we see Bonnington in a very Turneresque mood. The harmonies are a little softer though and the colours less insistent. Confident stuff from a
man in his early 20′s.
Another deliciously simple work by Bonnington a perfect balance of loose washes and crisp detail working together. For many watercolour artists
today the twin aims of looseness and expressive freedom become the be all and end all of painting, but I feel they are merely different tools in the box, important
but not overarching. The search to achieve such technical facility can often overtake the prime purpose which is to make the best picture possible.
Here is Parkes Bonnington in David Cox mode, what can you say he has everything, simplicity, a perfect sense of composition and atmosphere.
Here is Thomas Shotter Boys turning a jaundiced eye on what looks like Paris street life. He is best known for illustrating London As It Is and
various architectural scenes of Ghent and Antwerp. He studied under Richard Parkes Bonnington though only a year younger.
Here is an unfinished watercolour by Samuel Palmer, painted maybe after he recovered from the influence of William Blake. Unfinished paintings are always
fascinating to other artists as they give an insight as to how a artist works. Here you can see far from following the rule to bring the whole picture forward
together he is working across finishing as he goes, even as far as the touches of Chinese white for the smoking chimneys. You also wonder why he gave
up on it… looks fine to me!
Here is David Cox in dramatic mood. Many might think the surface overworked but I love its busy texture and the marvellously positioned touch of red
of the distant fire. David Cox is another Theatrical Scene painter.
Cox again, beautiful delicate handling of the simple areas of sea and sky with all the action strung out along the horizon line.
Here is a delicious evening painting by Miles Burkett Foster, who went on from this to be the originator of the “chocolate box” by painting romanticised
illustrations for Cadburys. He is the beginning of the slippery slope into syrupy sentiment that the Victorians adored.
Here we are in the fully fledged Victorian mode. The RWS exhibitions were full of these, some used to varnish them to ape oil paintings as much as
possible. This one is by Harold Sutton Palmer. There is much to admire here, but some how the life has gone out of the medium and everything is just
too perfect and safe.
There was more life on the other side of the pond with Winslow Homer producing beautiful marine paintings such as this. There is the horizon slap
bang halfway up the picture, and the boat halfway across… things we are told are “bad” composition, well it works here so that’s another rule to bin!
He is of course playing with us, the boat is “balanced” on the crest of the wave we know it will dip down on the next moment he has reinforced that
breathless feeling of suspension by his placement of the boat. The drive of the boat’s sail is balanced by the heavy dark steamer pulling in the opposite
Here is Winslow Homer again showing his mastery of the medium. A very restricted palette all to set off the pink of the sun.
Here we are with an artist that we don’t usually associate that much with watercolour, but in my opinion he is one of the best ever and very influential
on modern trends in watercolour. Sargent has everything really, sublime drawing skills, an eye for seeing beauty in the simplest of things, supremely
confident handling. It is interesting to note that although he grew tired of portraits he never wearied of painting watercolours of his friends on
their trips and indeed towards the end only painted the former to finance the latter. How perfect is the judgement of tone to capture the sun shining
through the canvas? The cool white of the plate on the ground. You might also note where the poles meet… it’s that half way point again.
Here he is again, there is just enough detail to capture the feel of a tree but no more. I particularly admire the handling of the two yellowy foreground
bushes, there is almost nothing there but we somehow know exactly how they are.
Here he is in Venice, a subject I get tired of in the paintings of others, But Sargent brings a freshness to it that is very beguiling. I love the caustic
reflections on the white hull of the yacht.
As I said before he has everything. I always notice that below the freedom of the bravura handling there is extremely tight drawing. Just look at the lamp
and the hanging cups.
Last one from Mr Sargent, I suspect this took him less than an hour.
A final work by Russell Flint, a wonderful watercolorist who wasted most of his career painting rather tedious pictures of dusky maidens, a lesson to us
all that it takes more than talent. That’s it my review ends here as I hit the land of copyright, but watercolour goes from strength to strength and seems
to inspire new exponents in each generation. If I was a curator and art historian I would now move on to a few half hearted splashings by Brit Art types
just to show that watercolour can be really, you know, contemporary… but I don’t think I’ll bother, just as they didn’t.