Most people have experienced painting with watercolors at some point in their lives—usually in grade school—but the Getty Center’s newest exhibition focuses on British artists who have mastered this challenging artistic technique.
“Luminous Paper: British Watercolors and Drawings,” on view through Oct. 23, features the work of some of the most famous British artists, including J.M.W. Turner, William Blake and Samuel Palmer.
“Key works have been added to the Getty’s collection in the last few years as part of an ongoing initiative to build our holdings of British drawings and watercolors to better represent the wider European tradition,” said associate curator Julian Brooks. “Many of these works have been recently acquired and we’re thrilled to be publicly displaying them for the first time in generations.”
Among the recent acquisitions is “Durham Cathedral and Castle” by Thomas Girtin, a dramatic view of a medieval cathedral and castle set on a rocky outcrop above water, amid the moving light of a bright, cloudy sky.
“Thomas Girtin is not a household name, but he used lots of color and that was really his signature,” Brooks said. “He died at an early age—in fact two years after making this drawing—so we don’t really know what he could have accomplished.”
Another painting new to the Getty is “View of the Church of Our Lady of Hanswijk, Mechelen” by Thomas Shotter Boys, a central figure in Anglo-French artistic exchange of the period, and one of the most sophisticated practitioners of watercolor. He excelled in capturing effects of atmosphere and mood, Brooks said.
“I think this is one of his greatest works. It’s just so perfect—every touch has something to say,” Brooks said. “The very calm water is achieved by scratching through the watercolor to the white paper, and the gray in the sky almost makes you want to reach for your umbrella.”
Magnifying glasses are provided for visitors who want to really look close to appreciate these pieces, Brooks said.
“These works are really special. It’s so satisfying to see visitors looking at them and using magnifying glasses to see the different techniques that the artists used,” he said.
Complementing “Luminous Paper” is a loan installation of three contemporary watercolors by British artist David Hockney, bringing the tradition of the exhibition watercolor into the present day. Hockney’s colorful and personal landscapes of the Yorkshire countryside of his youth show his ceaseless experimentation with artistic technique and demonstrate that watercolor as a medium is alive and well in the 21st century.
“Hockney basically uses the same techniques as the classic artists. He went out into Yorkshire and sketched the scenes before creating them in his studio,” Brooks said. “His are much bigger than the more classic watercolors, and because of the scale they seem more free and more colorful than those of artists like Turner and Girtin.”
Several related events will be held at the Getty to complement the exhibition, including talks by Brooks, watercolor workshops and an evening of poetry, music and art presented in collaboration with the Write Now Poetry Society.
The Getty Center is located at 1200 Getty Center Dr. Admission is free but parking is $15 a car. For information about the “Luminous Paper” exhibition, call the museum at 310-440-7300 or visit its website.
This article first appeared on Brentwood Patch.