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Where to look at 80,000 digitised watercolours

It was just under 200 years ago, in 1826, that French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph. Undoubtedly this was a turning point in our history but have you ever stopped to wonder how our world was visually documented prior to this? Before photography, there was art, and it is watercolours in particular that span throughout human history. Historical watercolours have captured so much of human life and have undoubtedly helped mould our understanding of the world and how it has changed.

That being said, historical watercolours are not always easy to find, with many being sadly lost, destroyed and in many cases, hidden away in dark archive rooms for their protection. Whilst incredibly beautiful, watercolours are also extremely delicate, which is why the UK based organisation Watercolour World has made it their mission to preserve as many works as possible.

It is futile trying to preserve all original works indefinitely, which is why this charity is committed to digitising them and creating an online database. To date, they have scanned and uploaded over 80,000 high-resolution watercolours to their website, which is free to access. Their ultimate aim is not only to preserve and protect these vital parts of our visual history but also to revive the forgotten art of watercolour.

Countless museums, galleries and collectors around the globe have stunning watercolours that, for their own safety, cannot be on display, but thanks to Watercolour World, this can all change. The organisation has successfully grown its archive year on year and has found itself inundated with requests from public and private collectors to add their works to the digital database.

If you have ever come across a pre-1900 watercolour, you may have noticed that it appears dull, yellowed and even faded. This type of damage is common with older works as the framing and paper used before the 20th century would rarely be acid-free, or in many cases, the pigments used would have poor lightfastness. Some watercolour artists were even noted for using inferior quality pigments that they knew would not last but had a brilliant colour when first applied.

Thankfully, Watercolour World is partnered with the Fujitsu company PFU to ensure the best possible digital copies can be captured. Since 2016 they have used state of the art, portable scanners to safely capture digital images of collections from all corners of the globe. As many watercolours are prone to damage from UV light, LED technology is used to scan the pieces ensuring no harmful light or heat is emitted.

Even watercolours that cannot be removed from their frames can still be captured and converted into a perfect replica image. Collectors and curators have complete peace of mind knowing their original artwork is not at risk of damage and can live on and be enjoyed by many online.

If you are looking for a seemingly endless archive of watercolour works, you need to look no further than Watercolour World’s free digital database! Their website offers a wealth of art that you can search through wherever and whenever.

The organisation aims to make watercolours as accessible as possible, which is why can you view high-resolution images on your computer, mobile or tablet. This incredible digital hub allows you to search for people, places, periods and more. It even contains a World Map page that lets you browse images according to the places they depict. You can truly experience the world like never before through the unique eyes of the artist.

Whilst Watercolours are often dubbed the poor relation of the art world, the reality is they offer a wealth of insight into the lives of our predecessors to observe how they lived, laughed and played.

It is thanks to the work of organisations such as Watercolour World these works of art no longer have to be hidden away in the dark. There is now a space to permanently preserve every colour, detail, and brushstroke that has helped document our world.

If you are interested in accessing an ever-growing database with over 80,000 digitised watercolours, you can visit Watercolour World’s website to experience watercolours and the world like never before.

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