Thousands of Historical Watercolours to be Available Online in a Digital Archive

A wealth of historical watercolours from across the globe will soon be available for you to use in your own projects, through a digital library backed by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

Before photographs existed, let alone massive online stock libraries designers have come to rely on, there were watercolour paintings, these brilliant historical artforms documented significant moments in history, such as immigration to new countries, and how society functioned. Now watercolours will be moving beyond the walls of museums and art galleries in a digital format. Read: 9 best sites for free vintage photos and artworks.

The watercolours will be available for your use simply through an online catalogue, to be made available by March next year. Dubbed the Watercolour World, you’ll be able to choose from thousands of digitised documentary watercolours dating before 1900, in what has been described as “a fascinating but largely ignored visual record”. With tens of thousands of pictures in the process of being uploaded already, the website will also act as a new source of global history.

They can be helpful for inspiration, gathering ideas, concepts, colour palettes, and also to add extra depth to your project itself. To use any of the pictures, you’ll have to secure permission or consent for your own use of third party content. For more information click here.

Delhi, Robert Weir Allan, © Royal Watercolour Society

More than three centuries’ worth of watercolours have been digitally salvaged, depicting subjects of topography, anthropology, botany, historic events, people and places. They will all be made available through a website hub. The watercolours represent cultures and countries from the Age of Enlightenment through to a modern era – and many more are sure to be discovered during the course of the project, as anyone can contribute to the growing library.

When the website is up and running the images will be geolocated on a world atlas for anyone to explore both familiar and unknown locations from past centuries, and you’ll be able to help identify unknown locations. If you own original watercolours painted before 1900 or a real place or event and are happy to share, then The Watercolour World says to get in touch with them.

It’s not yet known how much each painting will cost, or what the copyright details are.

Founder of the project, Fred Hohler, found the “orphan collection of images” while setting up the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF), which has more than 230,000 oil paintings in publicly owned or supported collections throughout the UK.

The Duchess of Cornwall, who was a patron of the PCF and her husband The Prince of Wales, who is a “keen watercolourist” himself, will be joint patrons of The Watercolour World, along with London charity The Marandi Foundation.

The New Docks, Isle of Dogs, William Daniell, © Hull Museums, Ferens Art Gallery
Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Common Seadragon), F. E. Clarke, no known copyright
The Pink Terraces (NZ), © Guy Peppiatt Fine Art