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(US), watercolor
a. water-soluble pigment, applied in transparent washes and without the admixture of white pigment in the lighter tones
b. any water-soluble pigment, including opaque kinds such as gouache and tempera
a. a painting done in watercolours
b. (as modifier): a watercolour masterpiece
3. the art or technique of painting with such pigments
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



paints, usually on a gum base, diluted with water, and also a painting executed in these paints.

Painting in opaque watercolor, with the admixture of whiting, was known in ancient Egypt, the world of antiquity, and Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages. Pure watercolor, without whiting, came to be widely used at the beginning of the 15th century. Its basic properties are the purity of the color and the transparency of the paints, which permit the tone and texture of the base to shine through. The base is usually paper—infrequently silk or ivory. Watercolor combines the characteristics of painting (the richness of tone and the construction of the form and space in color) and of drawing (the active role of the paper in the construction of the image). Its specific devices are washes and runs, which give the picture the effect of mobility and vibrancy. Watercolor may be monochro matic: sepia (brown pigment), bister, “black watercolor,” and India ink. Watercolors done by brush often contain drawings in pen or pencil.

During the 15th–17th centuries watercolor was used primarily for coloring etchings, rough drawings, preliminary sketches for oil paintings, and frescoes. (The applied value of watercolor has been partially preserved until today in architectural and other drawings.) The landscape watercolors of A. Dürer and the Flemish artists of the 17th century are well known. From the second half of the 18th century, watercolor first began to be widely used in landscape painting because the rapidity with which watercolor painting is done allows the painter to fix immediate observations; in addition, the airiness of watercolor facilitates the rendering of atmospheric phenomena. A. and J. R. Cozens, T. Girtin, and other professional watercolor artists appeared in England. Their pale landscapes on moist paper covered with one general tone to which all color gradations were subordinated, with drawings in fine pencil and washes, influenced the oil painting of the time and furthered the development of brighter and lighter colors. In the 18th century water-color painting also spread to France (J. H. Fragonard and H. Robert) and Russia (the landscapes of F. A. Alekseev and M. M. Ivanov). Related to the attempt to render the materiality and plasticity of the form, a solid, multilayered style of watercolor painting on dry paper developed in Italy in the second quarter of the 19th century. This style was based on rich contrasts between light and shade, between the color and the white background of the paper. Reflexes (reflected colors) and color shades emerged in the style of K. P. Bryullov and A. A. Ivanov. The watercolor portraits of P. F. Sokolov were original in technique with their masterful modeling of forms in small strokes and dots and broad color washes. In the 19th century watercolor was taken up by artists of various countries and schools, including E. Delacroix, H. Daumier, P. Gavarni, A. von Menzel, I. E. Repin, V. I. Surikov, and M. A. Wrubel; the English school of watercolor continued to flourish in J. M. W. Turner, J. S. Cotman, R. Bonington, W. Callow, and others. The watercolors of many artists had more verve and freshness than their oil paintings. The difference between watercolor and oil painting substantially disappeared at the end of the 19th century in the work of the neo-impres-sionists—P. Signac and others—whose watercolors possessed a lightness and luminosity, a blending of pure and bright spots of color with the whiteness of the paper. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century watercolor was used more frequently in combination with whiting, gouache, tempera, crayon, coal, bronze color, and so on—for example, in the works of Val. A. Serov and the artists of Mir iskusstva (World of Art). In the 20th century watercolor has attracted many artists seeking to express the impulsive emotionalism of color—namely, the representatives of expressionism, such as H. Matisse, whose water-colors are noted for their sunniness and cheerfulness of color.

Soviet watercolor is characterized by a diversity of genres, styles, and technical devices. Softness of tonal transitions marks the works, primarily black watercolors, of V. V. Lebedev, N. N. Kupreianov, N. A. Tyrsa, and the Kukryniksy (a group of painters and graphic artists). The landscapes of P. P. Konchalovsky are characterized by pic-torially free and energetically applied bright and colorful spots, and the portraits of A. V. Fonvizin by a richness of hues of subdued color and by a transparency of thin and light brushstrokes. The watercolor landscapes of S. V. Gerasimov, are distinguished by a richness of tonal nuances that re-create subtly the state of light and illumination found in nature. The watercolors of the Lettish artists of the 1960’s are characterized by general drawing and color and by a clarity of rhythm.


Kiplik, D. I. Tekhnika zhivopisi, 6th ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Farmakovskii, M. V. Akvarel’, ee tekhnika, restavratsiia i konservatsiia. Leningrad, 1950.
Reviakin, P. P. Tekhnika akvarel’noi zhivopisi. Moscow, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A pigment ground in a solution of gum arabic, water, and plasticizer, such as glycerin; the glycerin film retards drying in the tube and prevents brittleness in the paint film.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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