Art, as conceived by the Romantic philosopher F. W. J. Schelling, is to be found in
“a spirit’s odyssey outside of itself”. The art of watercolor evokes a relation between
artist and medium, unlike any other. More reactive than resistant to the brush, it appears
to respond to every gesture, so as to mirror human volition. By a means of delicate
mastery over the otherwise free conduction of coloured water upon a modern paper
surface, the passions of the artist may thereby be imagined to find their most indirect
outlet. Thus the most delicate of painterly processes, it relies upon the most spontaneous
intention or gesture.
Scientifically, its qualitative properties are those sensible to the eye, its
quantitative properties those which can be measured, and the properties of which it is
composed and it potential to react contribute to its chemistry. Aesthetically, it is much the
same, except that it may not at all be obvious which of these may be due to colour and
which to the transparency of the water. In their mysterious relation, watercolour may be
said to naturally capture the elements of air, water, and earth. But the discovery of the
fourth element, as dramatized in the paintings of J. M. W. Turner, conveys not only
lightning and fire but tells the story of human history and mythology both.
More commonly practiced in the west widely throughout the late eighteenth- and
early nineteenth-centuries, watercolour is known to have matured as a British art. It so
rendered not only its unique landscape but daily events, either often spectacular. A
cultural odyssey theretofore known only through classical literature would make travelers
of these painters, of largely their own lands nonetheless unknown to them visually--
thanks to the enviable compactness of the watercolour set. Consistent with this discovery
of “local colour”, the advent of Romantic culture thus represented a new freedom that
was being visited upon the soon to be modern individual.
It would incline not only the painter J.M.W. Turner but the poet Percy Bysshe
Shelley to further venture abroad in search of sublime subjects, taking nameless
inspiration in the human scale of a mountains and forests. While in England, others like
the painter Thomas Gainsborough, who had been known for his portraiture but was
privately passionate about the marvellous possibilities of landscape, and later John
Constable, would render famous theretofore secluded scenes of their childhood. Some
would endeavour therefore to reach beyond time, others beyond place, to recall the
philosophic image of Schelling.
*All opinions and views stated by the authors here are not necessarily the same as the Art History Students' Association.