The intersection of land, sea, and sky along England’s southern coastline offered a rich variety of subjects for 19th-century watercolor painters. Countless artists visited the white chalk cliffs at Dover, the remote rocky shores of Cornwall, and the many harbor towns and seaside resorts in between, depicting the waters of the English Channel in every observable mood and weather condition. Drawn from the Museum’s exceptional collection of British watercolors, the works in this exhibition showcase the natural beauty of this region and bespeak the cultural importance of the Channel as a maritime gateway connecting England to its vast overseas empire and to the European continent.
This selection features some of the period’s foremost watercolor specialists, including Copley Fielding, David Cox, and others who worked almost exclusively in this medium. Founding the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1804 and contributing regularly to its annual exhibitions, these artists firmly established watercolor painting as a unique branch of art-making worthy of esteem and patronage from the English public.
The popularity of seascapes such as these mirrored the growth of domestic tourism within Britain in the late 18th century and during the Napoleonic Wars. Proximity to London made the coastal towns of Kent, Sussex, and the Isle of Wight popular destinations, first for restoring health, then increasingly for the beauty of the coastal landscape. Artists followed, and as the adjacent map and this exhibition demonstrate, their works depicted and celebrated the entire length of the southern coast.
Curated by Crawford Alexander Mann III, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow, Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs