Chazen Museum of Art


Chazen Exhibition Will Showcase the Golden Age of British Watercolors 

On view September 22–December 2, 2012


Madison, Wis., August 6, 2012—Watercolor reached its pinnacle of quality and visibility in Victorian Britain. The Golden Age of British Watercolors, 1790–1910 will showcase the Chazen’s rich collection of nineteenth-century watercolor paintings and is augmented by several important works loaned by the Yale Center for British Art. Curated by undergraduate and graduate students at UW–Madison, the exhibition includes about twenty-five works by major watercolorists known for perfecting the art form, such as David Cox and William Henry Hunt. The exhibition will be on view September 22 through December 2, 2012.

This exhibition highlights the distinctive qualities of watercolor, a medium characterized by its delicacy, luminosity, visual opulence, and technical difficulty. It also demonstrates the range of subject matter in the nineteenth century—landscape, still life, rustic genre scenes, fairy painting, and classical, biblical, and mythic themes—as well as the many uses of watercolor, from travel souvenirs to commercial illustrations to unique works of art. Watercolor is a portable medium and became useful for practical as well as artistic purposes, even as a form of therapy for the invalid or mentally ill, as in the case of painter Richard Dadd.

Drawing manuals proliferated in the Victorian period. Drawing and coloring skills were considered a way to cultivate one’s mind and become genteel. Middle-class women, in particular, were encouraged to learn watercolor as one of a set of accomplishments associated with Victorian femininity. Professional artists such as Helen Allingham and Marie Spartali Stillman elevated this accomplishment above convention to achieve originality and sophistication.

Watercolor often has been considered a lesser art form than oil painting, but in the nineteenth century artists strove for equal status. Artists’ societies and display spaces were created to professionalize the medium, and some of the works in the exhibition, such as those by Thomas Rooke and Joseph Noel Paton, were originally produced to hang for public display and sale.

The Golden Age of British Watercolors, 1790–1910 emphasizes the role of artists’ networks in the development of British watercolor. Each painting is the result of a complex network of relationships, influences, and artistic choices as artists affiliated themselves around common themes, styles, or individuals. One group, the Ancients, formed in admiration of William Blake’s work, while other artistic communities developed around John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites. Visually powerful and intellectually engaging, the exhibition reveals watercolor in a new light.

Related Programming

  • Thursday 9/27, 2012, 6:30–8:30 p.m. Reception: Music by Karen Atz, principal harpist, Madison Symphony Orchestra, plus refreshments, and a cash bar
  • Saturdays, 10/13 and 11/3, 12:30 p.m., Thursdays, 9/27, 10/11, 10/25, 11/8, and 11/29, 4 p.m. Drop-in docent tours of The Golden Age of British Watercolors, 1790–1910. Garfield Gallery
  • Saturdays, 10/13 and 11/3, 12–2 p.m. Watercolor demonstrations by Katherine Steichen Rosing, artist and educator, who will discuss fundamentals of watercolor, demonstrate basic skills, and explore one technique in greater depth. Studio art classroom, room L185
       10/13: Focus on glazed transparent washes to create luminous color
       11/3: Focus on the dynamic wet into wet approach to mixing color
  • Thursday, November 15, 5:30 p.m. “‘A Morbid Fear of Conventionalism’: Rethinking the Victorian Landscape Watercolor,” lecture by Scott Wilcox, Chief Curator of Art Collections and Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Yale Center for British Art. Auditorium 

Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Chazen Museum of Art Council and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

#   #   #

Digital images for media use are available upon request. Contact: Susan Day, Editor, (608) 263-2068, 

The Chazen Museum of Art is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The main entrance is accessible to wheelchairs. Parking is available at the City of Madison State Street Campus Ramp (entrances on Frances and Lake streets) and under University Square. Metered parking is available in the UW lot 46 lower level. Evening and weekend parking is also available in UW lot 83 under Fluno Center, entrance on Frances Street, and in UW lot 7 under Grainger Hall, entrance on Brooks Street. The Chazen will provide sign language interpreters for associated programs by three-week advance request to Anne Lambert, Curator of Education, weekdays, (608) 263-4421 (voice). Information is also available by visiting our Web site at

Chazen Museum of Art

Visit us on the University of Wisconsin–Madison Campus

Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave., Madison, WI

© 2011 - 2018 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.