As an artistic medium, watercolor is so widely practiced, and so widely beloved, that it can be startling to reflect on its humble origins. For hundreds of years, nevertheless, watercolor labored in the shadow of oil painting; it was dismissed as a mere tool for creating preparatory studies, or as a “feminine” pastime. But, from the Renaissance, there have been artists who recognized the unique potential of watercolor: its luminosity, its immediacy, its ability to create atmosphere - qualities that derive directly from the quick-drying, translucent nature of water-based pigments. In this landmark volume, Louvre curator Marie-Pierre Salé tells the story of how these pioneering practitioners unlocked the aesthetic power of watercolor and established it as a medium in its own right.
Salé’s incisive text takes us from medieval scriptoria to the studios of the early twentieth-century modernists, encompassing every type of work - from plein-air sketches to finished studio pieces - and a wide variety of artists. Here are Dürer’s exquisitely detailed animal studies, Turner’s atmospheric landscapes, Cézanne’s tireless explorations of the visible, Sargent’s light-dappled sketches, O’Keeffe’s trailblazing abstractions. Throughout Salé draws on the personal and professional writings of artists and critics, revealing the rich dialogues that have propelled the development of watercolor, as well as the social institutions that have supported it, such as the nineteenth-century watercolor societies. A valuable appendix, also based in primary sources, traces the technical development of the medium.