FRANCIS HOPKINSON SMITH (1838–1915), "On the Way to the Public Garden," c. 1895, opaque watercolor and pastel over graphite on paper, 14 1/3 x 24 3/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., gift of Laura Dreyfus Barney and Natalie Clifford Barney in memory of their mother, Alice Pike Barney

From the Fine Art Connoisseur January/February 2022 Editor’s Note. Bonus: Get the new issue of Fine Art Connoisseur FREE here, as our gift to you!

Fine Art Connoisseur: Watercolors for All

It’s funny how certain things suddenly come back to your attention again and again, reminding you why you like them or need to notice them more.

Fine Art Connoisseur JanFeb 22 cover
On the cover: Joseph Lorusso (b. 1966), “A Mischievous Look” (detail), 2003, oil on board, 15 1/2 x 12 in., collection of Saad and Janan Habba. For details, please see page 92 of the January/February issue.

That happened to me this autumn with watercolor paintings. I have always loved the flowing expressiveness of the watercolor medium — how it can be used to depict an image realistically yet never lets us forget it’s made of a slippery substance over which artists must have complete mastery. Even those drip marks are strategic.

In November, as Eric Rhoads and I co-hosted the successful four-day online conference known as Realism Live, I refocused on watercolor’s joys during our celebration of the South Carolina artist Mary Whyte, who graciously accepted our Lifetime Achievement Award, and who has won acclaim for the superb portraits she creates in the watery medium. This reminder was reinforced by the fascinating demo of landscape painting in watercolors offered by Stewart White (Maryland) during the same conference. I myself can hardly draw a stick figure, so I remain in awe of how these talents make magic with a drippy brush and an unforgiving sheet of white paper.

Still more watercolors delighted my eyes as I gathered information on Dean Mitchell’s current show at the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama, and again as I visited a fascinating new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Titled “Sargent, Whistler & Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano,” it encompasses an array of watercolors, including the luminous scene (illustrated above) by Francis Hopkinson Smith, an artist I had scarcely heard of. I was astonished by Smith’s orchestration of bright colors — ones that usually strike me as garish — into a harmonious whole, and now I want to learn more about his life and technique.

I am bound to draw further insights by watching Streamline’s next online conference, Watercolor Live, scheduled for January 26–29. Offering their insights then will be an impressive range of talents including Kathleen Alexander, Poppy Balser, Cindy Baron, Susan Blackwood, Carol Carter, Alvaro Castagnet, Ali Cavanaugh, Chien Chung-Wei, Kathleen Giles, Laurie Goldstein-Warren, Michael Holter, Wennie Huang, Paul Jackson, Amit Kapoor, Tom Lynch, Carol McSweeney, Julie Gilbert Pollard, David Poxon, John Salminen, Thomas W. Schaller, Richie Vios, Carrie Waller, and Stewart White.

All of these recent encounters have reminded me how much I enjoy the look of watercolors and why I should keep an eye open for a new one(s) to buy for my own collection. I encourage you to do the same, hopefully by joining us for Watercolor Live and also by Googling around to connect with the watercolor society nearest you. Almost every U.S. state and region has at least one, offering regular exhibitions where you can discover their members’ brilliance in person.

See you there.

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