Watercolour transcends time.
Indeed, watercolour paintings can be found in caves as far back as Palaeolithic Europe, in the ancient civilisations of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, through to the Middle Ages and into the 21st century.
For centuries, watercolours have documented our world history, opening a unique window into past lives and cultures.
During the Renaissance, it transformed from a primitive source of documentation into an innovative art form.
One of the earliest exponents of watercolour paintings during this period was German artist Albrecht Durer. He is most famed for his botanical, wildlife and landscape watercolours, and his 1502 piece ‘Hare‘ has since become one of the most famous watercolour works of all time.
It is housed currently at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, but is unfortunately not on display. The most recent occasion to view Durer’s incredible work was in a 2019/2020 exhibition held for only a handful of months. It will now not be displayed for many years to protect its aesthetic integrity. Unfortunately, this is the life of many historical watercolours; rarely displayed, preserved and protected in dark archive cabinets, only ever to be viewed by a handful of people.
Sadly, not only does this separate us from integral parts of our history, but it also contributes to an already growing inaccessibility to art. Throughout history, art has been reserved for a wealthy minority in society, and by keeping watercolours out of the public eye – and only available for those who can afford a private audience – we are contributing to this disparity.
Watercolour World is a UK-based organisation that believes in not only preserving our watercolour history, but also making it accessible to everyone.
Its objective is to preserve thousands of pre-1900 watercolours, and make them available to all on a free online database. An incredible curated collection contains more than 80,000 watercolours that would otherwise never be seen. The fragility of watercolours is detrimental to their longevity, which is why by using safe and efficient scanning methods, these historical pieces can live forever in the digital space.
The team at Watercolour World has travelled the globe over the past five years, visiting both public and private watercolour collections. Works are carefully scanned and archived in their database using modern scanning and photography technology. Watercolour depicts the world before photography, and so, it is only fitting that photography can help save these priceless documentations.
With the help of Fujitsu’s PFU ScanSnap SV600 portable scanner, the organisation can scan watercolours without causing any heat or light damage. This method ensures that the works are kept safe by using LED technology which captures a perfectly detailed, true to life digital copy of the piece without emitting any harmful UV light.
Many of the watercolour pieces the organisation has come across have been kept in frames for prolonged periods, and cannot be removed due to the risk of damage.
However, the scanner can capture a perfect copy of the watercolour, even through glass, without any glare or reflections from the surface.
Once captured, the digitised watercolours can be uploaded to Watercolour World’s expanding database on its website.
With one click, you can be transported to any place in the world from a World Map page that allows you to browses images based on the place they depict. History can be seen like never before through the delicate and detailed brushstrokes of artists from the past.
They say that money can’t buy happiness, but what money can buy is access to art galleries, admission to museums, private collections and exclusive events.
By simply looking at any research on cultural participation and its links to wellbeing and happiness, it is immediately evident that the need to make art accessible has never been greater.
Watercolour World is dedicated to doing its part in closing this societal divide by ensuring people from all walks of life have access to watercolours.
These works represent lifetimes of culture, heritage and our collective world history that we are all entitled to learn from.
If you are interested in exploring the world through watercolour, you need to look no further than Watercolour World’s free digital database.