The watercolour - quintessentially English, the hardest medium to paint with and a radical art form that has become democratic and enjoyed by millions.
It has been much maligned but, as the new festival of the watercolour shows, it is worthy of both serious viewing and enjoyment.
The multi-layered festival, which will take place between Saturday September 24 and Saturday October 15, kicks off with stunning exhibition ‘In Pursuit of the Watercolour’ which builds on Horsham Museum and Art Gallery’s nascent collection.
With works by ‘the greats’ on show, it reveals how Horsham can build up a fabulous collection by leading talents of the medium from the 1750s onwards.
This exhibition will not only expose why the paintings are so aesthetically pleasing and intrinsically interesting, but also deliver some of the back history to show why they are part of our visual and cultural heritage.
The exhibition includes a large number of works loaned by passionate individuals who are delighted to show the public why the watercolour should not be overlooked - and in addition, why it is an area that Horsham Museum and Art Gallery could collect, as it moves along with the town in raising a cultural offer worthy of 21st century Horsham.
The museum is delighted that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers have supported this exhibition, enabling the Museum to host events and fundraise to build the collection. Toovey’s have also donated a stunning watercolour to the museum’s collection: A market boat on the Scheldt, by Frederick Clarkson, painted in 1828 as a study for his oil painting in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The story begins with medieval watercolours, at a time when the medium was used to colour images, along with a 17th century map of Slinfold.
In the 18th century, seen by many as the birth pangs of a new art, the watercolour moved away from ‘colouring in’, to a medium that allowed for expressive creativity. Even the topographical views, seen as the mainstay of the watercolour, show a great deal of inventiveness and skill, with artists using 30 or 40 colours in one painting.
With work by Sandby, Francis Grosse, Henry Edridge and others, the exhibition will show the influence that watercolours had on antiquarian taste, alongside topographical views which form our mental image of late 18th century life.
As watercolour artists became the ‘brash young guns’ that disrupted the traditional art world (used to oil and historic paintings with classical imagery and messages), they shook up the art world and became revolutionary in approach and technique.
The watercolour became democratic: manuals were published showing how to create your own, not only for men but also for women. In such a world the professional artist had to be on top form, so it is of little surprise that artists such as Varley, Wheatley, De Wint - who all feature in this showcase - became outstanding practitioners, and are much sought after today.
Throughout the 19th century the watercolour grew in popularity, moving out of the album of images into framed mini masterpieces that hung on the wall of the growing number of middle class homes. Amongst those on display are the works of Horsham-born Victorian artist Helen Cordelia Coleman, whose exquisite work was praised by The Times in their leader column.
The exhibition is part of a wider programme of events and activities - including two masterclasses by award-winning artist Gordon Rushmer, who will reveal techniques and talent built up over 50 years as an artist.
Thanks to Seawhites, Horsham Museum and Art Gallery are hosting a number of workshops for children to get involved, whilst collectors can ask the experts from Toovey’s for help with identification and valuation. This is the first of what is planned to be a yearly event. Details of the programme can be found on www.horshammuseum.org
‘In Pursuit of the Watercolour’ is an outstanding opportunity for the people of Horsham district and beyond to engage with art of exceptional quality. It includes loaned masterpieces from Worthing Museum and Art Gallery as well as from private individuals.
The exhibition would not have been possible without the support of Toovey’s who have kindly produced a catalogue of the works on display to help raise funds to build up the watercolour collection for Horsham Museum and Art Gallery.
Horsham Museum is open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm. Free admission. Visit www.horshammuseum.org