history of rsw


Originally, watercolour societies were established to provide exhibiting conditions more favourable to the then more delicate and elusive medium, where watercolours could be shown separate from the power and scale of oil paintings and without the irritation in mixed shows of being 'skied' high up on the gallery walls. In such mixed exhibitions watercolours were presented, like oils, in gold frames together with gold mounts, a custom which prevailed until, in about 1900, white or tinted mounts were brought in. Another important motivation behind watercolour societies was the desire to elevate the medium from its often perceived role in making preliminary studies or in outdoor sketching and to encourage it's recognition as a valid form of aesthetic expression in its own right. However, it would be a mistake to forget the considerable number of Scottish artists of talent whose work in watercolour existed before the societies - from the brilliant little watercolours of Sir David Wilkie in the early years of the 19th century, to artists like the traveller David Roberts and the rugged landscape masters John MacWhirter and Horatio McCulloch. Sam Bough and William McTaggart RSW , as Founder Members of the RSW were firmly established as masters of both watercolour and oils and in fact, Scottish watercolour painters have played a highly important role in the general development of Scottish painting, in a way which English watercolour in the 19th century did not match, apart of course from Turner. Scottish watercolour painting has long been characterised by a freedom of approach, a bold confidence in handling its materials and a robust way with colour. Among the Glasgow Boys, about to emerge in the 1880s as a potent force in British painting, several were vigorous watercolour painters - James Paterson RSW, E H Walton RSW (both of whom became RSW Presidents), Joseph Crawhall RSW, George Henry RSW and the extraordinary and virtuosic Arthur Melville RSW. The innovative use of materials and the freedom of handling are still an obvious characteristic of Scottish watercolour painting today. In the 19th century the approach owed something to European example through Scottish contacts with, especially, Netherlandish painting and by the end of the century with the Paris ateliers. Glasgow and Edinburgh galleries also showed painters from abroad, mostly from Holland and Belgium.

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