Watercolour painting experienced a significant surge in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in Britain, where it was seen as an ideal medium for depicting the country’s landscapes and natural beauty. As a result, the techniques and approaches to watercolour evolved significantly during this time.

1. Transparent Watercolour: The 18th century saw the widespread use of transparent watercolour techniques, a departure from the opaque method, termed ‘bodycolour’, used in the earlier part of the century. Transparent watercolour involved applying thin layers of paint to the paper, allowing the white of the paper to shine through, which created a luminous, glowing effect. The layers could be built up to achieve deeper tones.

2. Wet-on-Wet Technique: The wet-on-wet technique, where wet paint is applied to a wet surface, was often used to create soft, diffused effects, ideal for skies, backgrounds, or any elements that required a sense of depth or distance. It allowed colours to blend naturally and effortlessly on the paper.

3. Dry Brush Technique: The dry brush technique involved applying a relatively dry but still somewhat wet brush to dry paper. This method was used for creating fine details or texture, as it allowed more control over the strokes.

4. Grisaille: In the 19th century, the ‘grisaille’ technique gained popularity. This involved painting entirely in shades of grey or another neutral greyish colour. It was typically used to imitate sculpture or to establish tonal values in the early stages of a painting.

5. Colour Theory: Artists began to experiment more with colour theory during the 19th century, spurred by scientific discoveries about light and colour. This led to a broader, more vibrant palette and more nuanced understanding of shadows and highlights.

6. Pre-Raphaelite Watercolour: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which included artists like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, championed watercolour in the 19th century. They adopted a meticulous approach, using small brushes and multiple layers of paint to capture minute details and create an intense colour saturation.

7. Plein Air Painting: The practice of painting outdoors, or ‘plein air’ painting, was popularized in the 19th century. Artists would venture into the countryside to capture natural landscapes in the changing light of day, leading to spontaneous, vibrant, and atmospheric works.

Throughout these two centuries, advancements in the manufacture and commercial availability of watercolour paints also contributed to the medium’s development. The creation of more permanent, lightfast pigments, and the introduction of paint tubes and portable paint boxes, allowed artists more freedom and flexibility in their practice.


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