Like the fantasy of playing the harp, being able to set up an easel in the English countryside and dabble away with watercolors seems to most of us an unattainable goal. But during the Regency, proficiency with watercolor painting was promoted and taught to young ladies. I’ve run across many scenes in Regency fiction in which a young miss is prompted to get out her portfolio to impress a potential suitor.
I find art supplies to be full of exciting potential. Just the act of perusing easels, touching papers, and hefting brushes makes me think I “could” paint. Then I crash back to reality, knowing I never will.
The paintbox was an essential accessory for the aspiring female amateur outdoor painter. By the middle of the eighteenth century, British artists regularly sketched outdoors. In watercolor, they found a medium well-suited to their needs, capable of capturing fleeting effects of light and weather, and requiring readily portable materials. Doesn’t this case look wonderfully clever? They certainly helped make outdoor painting possible.
Here’s an example of a portable easel, with built-in paintbox:
Today, the medium is most commonly associated with Britain during the period extending roughly from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century—the so-called Golden Age of watercolor.
The new Romantic watercolor style developed around 1800 employed freer brushwork—often applied to rough-textured papers—and sought to capture fleeting atmospheric effects. Some notable English artists active during the Regency include: John Constable (1776–1837) who used watercolor to record the appearance of cloud-filled skies at specific times of day, and in various weather conditions, and then used these aides mémoires in composing his oil paintings, Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–1828), a British artist active in France, who developed a virtuoso watercolor style marked by its brilliant palette, David Wilkie (1785–1841), and William James Müller (1812–1845.
Here is a well-executed (circa 1st quarter of the19th century) watercolor known to have been painted by a young woman. It came out of her practice scrapbook, with skills probably learned at a girl’s academy. Artistic skills were considered of great importance to young women because it evidenced their schooling. They spent free time practicing their painting.
If you have painted outdoors, please comment and tell about your experiences.