The Laing gallery’s watercolour collection is very nice. The walls are painted deep navy, giving the faint sense of being underwater while viewing works built with a medium dependent on this life giving substance.
Water also dominates the theme of many of these works: Venice, a destination summoning artists for centuries in the ethereal mystery of the impossible city, straddling east and west, rising out of water. The style of these depictions were varied, from the painstakingly detailed, to vague, misty allusions to form, to more contemporary depictions in lurid hues.
This variety inspires us to question the purpose of watercolour. For many of the artists visiting Venice, such as Sergeant, the purpose of the visit was to execute larger oils, thus his depictions seem an attempt to grasp the feeling of the city, or to practice depicting the city. For others, such as Ruskin, these sketches aimed to aid him examine the art of the city more closely, and thus hopefully gain a greater insight into the history of the city and the influences which have shaped it.
What is wonderful about watercolours, felt in the works displayed, is their portability. When thinking of watercolours I immediately remember the sets which we used in Primary School, the neat rainbow of colours- neat, that is, if you were extremely lucky, more likely a mess of confused colours all tainted by one another. But these sets were easy to carry out with you, could be used on paper, the pad and set then thrown into a bag or large pocket. Though, therefore, these works are not necessarily striking or ground breaking works of art, through them we get a sense of artist’s everyday experiences, we see not works they have slaved over but sketches of sights which have caught their eye. They are snapshots taken before cameras were available, their influence seems, however, to have lasted into this age of Instagram.