Review: A Fluid Art

Review: A Fluid Art

The Smythe Collection of British Watercolour Paintings belonged to Archdeacon F.H.D. Smythe from Lewes, England. The art lover amassed a vast collection. From the 1950s he began donating his watercolours to British and New Zealand Art institutions. Te Papa possesses 339 of his paintings – usually safely stored away until needed.

Dr. Annika Sippel based her PHD thesis on the Smythe Collection. ‘Fluid Art’ refers to the versatile nature of Watercolours as illustrated by the sixteen works she has chosen for this exhibition. Four distinct groups make up this small, well- curated exhibition.

Image: J Jacob.

Victorian paintings with their nostalgic idealised depictions of everyday life lost favour by the 1900s. But the first four paintings reveal some fine technical details such as the short brush strokes in ‘Woman in a Cabbage Field’. George Kilburne’s ‘The River’ has many fine details. Red hues are seen in all four paintings

The sketching technique that was popular by the 1860s – for unfinished work by an artist – is the focus of the next group of paintings. Collectors were happy to buy these. Brabazon’s watercolour is Annika’s favourite here. James Aitkin’s street scene reveals a very modern approach.

Women began to earn respect instead of being dismissed as inferior artists. By 1900 some were able to make a living from their art – e.g. Eliza Sharpe’s Minatures and Kate Greenaway for her illustrations for books – ‘Under the Window’ is from a children’s book.

The final four works show the utilitarian purpose for watercolours: the collaboration with other artists to create designs for products like textiles, stained glass creations and pottery. Rossetti’s design for a stained glass window is striking – brown ink with a wash. Strong colours appear in Walter Crane’s costume design – watercolour on paper.

Annika’s knowledge of her subject, her enthusiasm and obvious affection for the Smythe collection shone through. There was warm applause at the end of the floor talk and many questions and positive comments. It was definitely an enjoyable and enlightening event. I certainly learnt much about Watercolours.

Dorothy Corry