Tag Archives: art history

The Origin of American Watercolor

1 Jan
Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_Bell_Rock_Lighthouse_-_Google_Art_Project

Bell Rock Lighthouse by Joseph M. W. Turner (1775-1851) Watercolor on paper

Have you ever wondered how watercolor ended up in America?  This was a recent subject I researched and I’m happy to share it with you here.

To start, watercolor was used in other countries long before it arrived in America.

In prehistoric times, watercolor was used by cavemen to paint on cave walls. The next time it appears in history, it is used in illuminated manuscripts, such as religious texts.

Actually, watercolor didn’t develop as a major medium until paper was invented.  Paper was made in ancient China.  It was then improved by the Arabs and then made in European Mills in the late 1200s.

Thanks to Chinese poet-painters, watercolor painting was now considered as more than merely a decorative craft.  Their paintings were on paper and silk.  Their art was filled with calligraphy with the main image usually being a landscape.  The landscape became a central theme for western watercolor in later centuries.

According to author, Theodore Stebbins, Jr. who wrote “American Master Drawings and Watercolors”, watercolor originally was used as a tool for sketching drawings.  It was for practice and recording information, not for fine art until German artist, Albrecht Durer began using it for his landscapes in the late 1400’s.

Originally a printmaker, Durer found a way to combine transparent and opaque watercolors to make lovely colored drawings.

In 1770, England began producing paper made especially for watercolor paint.  Suddenly an influx of watercolorists emerged with lots of landscape paintings.  As Britain’s power grew, so did the influence of these artists.  Joseph M.W. Turner, a famous English painter from that time, excelled at watercolor experimentation.  He discovered new ways to apply the paint with sponges, rags, knives and brushes.  For a long time, the English watercolorists were considered more skilled than any other artists in the world.

Early watercolorists used to grind their own pigments.  In the 1850s Winsor & Newton and Reeves (two companies that still exist today) began producing paint in tubes and in dried cakes.  The portability helped the tradition spread to America.

Maps were some of the first watercolors to come from America – used as visual aids to the new land.  Gradually more skilled and talented artists began to develop and rivaled the Europeans.

American artists saw watercolor as a primary medium. This attitude was different from that of the Europeans! American painters considered watercolor as an equal to oils.  By 1866 watercolors were shown in galleries here alongside oil paintings.

Famous American watercolorists include: Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and John James Audubon.

Today, American Watercolor Artists continue to take the lead.  We contribute to the international watercolor tradition like no other country – producing important and varied bodies of work.  We are known for our individuality and artistic expression. We are continually pushing the limits of this medium.

We can expect watercolor development to continue as new products come onto the market.  Although Americans did not invent watercolor painting, I have no doubt we will lead the world in unique and original artistic development. I encourage you to keep watch for new developments.

 

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Munch Created His Own Style

6 Mar
the-scream

The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch (1863-1944), the Norwegian artist whose art covered themes of love, death, isolation and pain had developed his own style.

Although he had health issues, particularly in his younger years, he painted almost every day.  His last thirty years he spent mostly in isolation, producing a phenomenal amount of work (around 1,100 paintings).

His paintings were constantly changing and he often would repeat paintings, changing subtle things each time.  Munch is considered a unique artist due to his fluidity, meaning his style was changing from day to day and period to period.

Not all of his paintings were masterpieces and some of his most famously renowned paintings had critics who loved them and also critics who hated them.

Although he was accused of copying the styles of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Renoir he denied it saying that yes, some of his techniques may be similar but his painting was unique and with these other artists, he was only related in time.

Munch was both criticized and praised for his innovative “turpentine paintings” which allowed the canvas to be visible.  He spent years developing his “turpentine paintings” techniques.  Although he was aware of the influence of his contemporaries, Munch always remained faithful to his own style.

To view some of his paintings click here: http://munchmuseet.no/en/munch

Celebrating Life

23 Dec
Watercolor painting by Raoul Duffy

“Still Life” by Raoul Dufy

 

The holidays are time for relaxing with friends and family and this particular painting by Raoul Dufy seems to reflect that lighter side of life.  Dufy lived from 1877 until 1953 and his style developed over a long period of time.  The watercolor painting above, titled “Still Life” portrays the pleasures of alfresco dining on a summer day.  There is fruit, wine and crusty bread waiting on a pleasant outdoor patio for guests to arrive.  Dufy also painted boating scenes, carnivals, concerts and horse racing.  Let’s celebrate holiday times with joyful memories.