800 years of watercolor

Imagine a typical watercolor painting at an art show.  Do you think of soft colors, a landscape, or maybe flowers? Looking back through the ages, it’s interesting to find that the history of this art medium includes use in illuminated manuscripts, drawings for recording information and map making.

Rachel Pedder-SmithRachel Pedder-Smith, Bean Painting:   Specimens from the Leguminosae family

The Tate Museum in Britain has been running an exhibition since February, which will continue on through August 2011.  Their premise behind this exhibition is to challenge your preconceptions of watercolour. (“colour” being the British spelling)

Dante Gabriel RossettiDante Gabriel Rossetti, The Tune of the Seven Towers

(Rossetti uses)” lots of lots of gum and varnish, trying to deny watercolor’s transparent qualities by making it thick and heavy, giving it the appearance of something painted on wood.” – curator Alison Smith

Wenceslaus HollarWenceslaus Hollar, View from Peterborough Tower, Tangier Castle

 Hollars earned his living by working for various authors and publishers, creating etchings and prints. Later in his life he was sent by the king to draw the forts and towns of Tangiers. Though his works were well-regarded, he died in poverty.

Queen Victoria's watercolorsQueen Victoria’s watercolour set, on preview at the Tate Museum Exhibition, “Watercolour”

Queen Victoria was quite a prolific painter, and enjoyed collecting and supporting art as well as creating it.  In the 1800’s, women were taught the art of watercolour for the purpose of creating decorative and domestic arts. Maybe I’ll put that on my list of things to do.

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field trip: oriental institute

There is a treasure of a museum tucked away in Hyde Park, out on East 58th Street, Chicago.  It is within walking distance of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous houses, the Frederick C. Robie House. You can tour the house and walk to the Oriental and make a great day of it.


Entire wall reliefs dwarf ordinary human presence, transporting you to ancient Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, and the ancient site of Megiddo.  Pictures do not do it justice — you have to feel this space.

“Roughly half of the Persian Gallery is devoted to artifacts from Persepolis, which thrived from approximately 520 B.C. until, in 331 B.C., Alexander the Great and his troops destroyed it. This portion of the gallery is dominated by a series of colossal sculptures made of polished, black limestone, including the head of a bull that once guarded the entrance to the Hundred-Column Hall and column capitals in the forms of bulls and composite creatures.” – from the Oriental Institute website

One of the few examples in the United States of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This museum is fairly small – you don’t need an entire day to see everything.  It is well worth a trip to the city, and leaves you time to do other things too.  For me, someone not particularly well versed in history, or even partial to oriental art, this place was surprisingly a wonder.  To be standing next to the massive sculptures transported me to a time and place I never took the time to imagine before.