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Drip, Splatter, Wash: American Watercolor, 1860-1960

May 19, 2016 - November 20, 2016


Drip, Splatter, Wash: American Watercolor, 1860-1960 features 24 works from the permanent collection of American art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The exhibit is on display May 19 through November 20, 2016. (right: Edward Hopper, American (1882-1967). The Dory, 1929. Watercolor and opaque watercolor over graphite on paper, 13 7/8 x 20 1/16 inches. Gift of Mrs. Louis Sosland, F77-36/3. )

A lone sailor in a small boat, a bustling Italian flower market, and Kansas City's Argentine neighborhood after the Great Flood of 1951 are among the subjects that have been represented by American artists in watercolor. Not only diverse in subject, paintings in watercolor can be intimate or expansive and showcase an array of techniques. Watercolor is a medium with the capacity to be fluid or precise, translucent or opaque. Since the mid-1800s, American artists have used watercolor to create works for personal fulfillment, preparatory study, and exhibition. Drip, Splatter, Wash: American Watercolor, 1860-1960 features artists working in watercolor between 1860 and 1960. These artists use the medium to explore the nuances of their materials, the depths of themselves, and the sweep of the globe.

Because of its prominence in American art, critics and scholars have often referred to watercolor as "the American medium." Watercolor societies emerged in America in the late 1860s. These groups were founded by artists who were using the historically European medium to depict American subjects. Exhibitions featuring watercolor flourished as artists experimented with styles and techniques. Advances in pigment chemistry further supported the medium's popularity. Innovations enabled the production of liquid pigments in portable tubes that encouraged painting outside. American artists continued using watercolor as artistic styles shifted. Around 1900, artists began to use the medium to picture modernity, represent personal visions, and explore abstraction.


Library Guide

An online library guide prepared by the Spencer Art Reference Library of the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is available for persons seeking further general information on American watercolors and the artists in the exhibition. The bibliography was prepared by Roberta Wagener at the Spencer Art Reference Library. To view the bibliography, please click here.


Checklist for the exhibition

Please click here to view the checklist for the exhibition.


(above: Andrew Wyeth, American (1917-2009). Old Orchard, 1957. Watercolor and opaque watercolor with India ink on paper, 20 x 27 15/16 inches. Bequest of Diana Reid Hearne James, F97-29/2)


(above: Maurice Brazil Prendergast, American (b. Canada, 1858-1924). Side Canal, Venice, ca. 1898-1899. Watercolor over graphite on paper, 13 5/16 x 9 15/16 inches. Purchase: acquired through the generosity of Mrs. George C. Reuland through the W. J. Brace Charitable Trust, F81-46.)

Resource Library editor's notes:

For a definition of checklist, please see Definitions in Museums Explained.

For further biographical information on artists mentioned in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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