Mark Glazebrook

Love of queens and princes

Watercolour: only a medium but what a medium! It’s so versatile, and when painting the landscape it can respond with lightning speed to changes in the weather.

Watercolour: only a medium but what a medium! It’s so versatile, and when painting the landscape it can respond with lightning speed to changes in the weather.

Watercolour: only a medium but what a medium! It’s so versatile, and when painting the landscape it can respond with lightning speed to changes in the weather. The latter’s unpredictability has made it our most predictable national topic and the English have long taken watercolours to their hearts, both as practitioners and as collectors. Indeed, Queen Victoria (a watercolourist herself) presided over no fewer than two comparable organisations, the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS), founded in 1804, plus the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI), which became Royal in 1885. Queen Elizabeth II has questioned the logic of retaining two apparently similar bodies but Prince Charles, a noted practitioner, is patron of both. As Macheath puts it in The Beggar’s Opera: ‘How happy could I be with either, Were t’other dear charmer away!’

It is sometimes said that our monarchy has survived partly by espousing the best middle-class customs and values — while appreciating that aristocrats tend to have more fun. Significantly enough, in the bourgeois realms of The Forsyte Saga, it is Young Jolyon, the freethinking professional watercolourist, who finally captures Galsworthy’s personification of ‘beauty’, namely Irene, lovely ex-wife of the stuffy, possessive Soames.

I was recently one of five judges of the RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition. We sat in a huge room in Kensington surrounded by seemingly countless framed paintings, including works in thick acrylic, which I happen to think is a pity but it’s not against the rules, which allow any ‘water-based’ media.

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