Since they were first used to tint word carvings in the early 14th century, watercolors have become a famous art medium. 

There are many fascinating facts about watercolor paintings in this article, including the evolution and history of one of the most popular art forms.

Around 4000 BC, primitive people used pigments to create crude cave paintings, which evolved into the pigments used by the Egyptians and the Chinese. 

With the invention of paper by the Chinese, the world of visual arts radically changed until the Italians developed watercolors.    


In prehistoric cave paintings, primitive people used pigments from trees, leaves, and other water-based pigments to create watercolors, known as the oldest paint medium.


Ancient Egyptian pyramids were found with watercolor paintings dating before 4000 BC. In spite of this, papyrus is brittle, so very few of these paintings have survived the ravages of time and the elements.

Due to the invention of paper, the Chinese are more adept at preserving their paintings. Chinese decorative arts were dominated by watercolor around 4000 BC. 

The Chinese improved their Chinese brush around the 4th century CE, leading to watercolor landscapes becoming popular.

As knowledge has evolved, so have our media, especially with the discovery of paper by the Chinese and papyrus by the Egyptians. Prior to the invention of paper around 100 AD, silk was the first canvas used by the Chinese.

After Italy and France established paper manufacturers in the late 12th century, water-based paints became so popular in Europe. Throughout the years, watercolor art flourished, improving the compositions and the art itself.

Watercolors were established as an art form by the 14th century. During this time, illuminated books were among the most common works commissioned. 

With the advent of printing, these books were adorned with lavish paintings and colorful texts, and were symbols of wealth. The Book of Hours, a devotional used by laypeople, is one of the most famous illuminated books from the Middle Ages.


Aquarelle was established as a medium by European artists. Watercolors of the twentieth century were heavily influenced by these artists. These are some of the artists who contributed to the history of watercolor painting.



The famous paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were created by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564). 

A sculptor by trade, he painted the paintings on wet plaster based on scenes from the Bible despite not having any prior experience in oil painting. Despite the long labor, the paintings were completed in 1512.

Albrecht Dürer

Known for his high-quality woodcuts and watercolor landscapes, German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was a famous German artist. With his mastery of watercolor art, he has earned fame as a master of the medium.

He became famous for his style of woodcut prints after incorporating watercolor techniques.

Hans Bol

Hans Bol

Landscapes, illuminations, wood engravings, and drawings by Hans Bol were among his greatest works. His greatest contribution to watercolor in Germany was the establishment of watercolor schools. Many of his contemporaries adopted his style of painting.

Peter Paul Rubens

He painted voluptuous women at a time when these images were fashionable. He was known for his exceptional imagination, which resulted in the most beautiful paintings.

In his lifetime, he painted the ceiling of a Jesuit church in Antwerp, making it one of his most notable works.

Thomas Gainsborough 

One of the most influential British artists of the late eighteenth century was Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), one of the founding members of the Royal Academy. His paintings stood out for their technique and fearless experiments to create them. 

Currently on display at the Yale Center for British Art, Gainsborough’s watercolor painting Hilly Landscape with Figures Approaching a Bridge (1763) illustrates his signature style and artistry.

John Constable 

One more impoverished artist, John Constable (1776-1837), was able to open his coffers after selling The White Horse (1819). His paintings of realistic landscapes have become legendary. 

Watercolor paintings of The Stonehenge (1835) are another example of his artistic talent. As a painter, he was also one of the most influential of the 19th century, and his work continues to influence many artists today.

Joseph Mallord William Turner

In popular culture, JMW Turner is commonly known as Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), who painted English landscapes during the Romantic period. 

A signature aspect of his work was his atmospheric sky paintings that conveyed a sense of wonder. Fisherman at Sea (1796) is an example of this style.

John Sell Cotman

The English painter and engraver John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) created watercolors and engravings. In addition to painting picturesque landscapes, he also painted in styles that are not common in nineteenth-century watercolors. 

Despite his efforts, he failed to earn enough money. To the dismay of his family, his paintings didn’t sell for a high price even after he died.

He was later regarded as one of the best painters of watercolor seascapes and landscapes, as his paintings gained a reputation. He has created works that are on display in numerous museums throughout Europe and the United States.

Paul Klee

Born in Germany to Swiss parents, Paul Klee (1879-1940) was a Swiss painter. He influenced his career as an artist by his time spent in the military. Kree was a versatile artist who didn’t favor one medium over another. His work reflects his experiments with tone and value throughout his career. 

Fohn im Marc’schen Garten (1915) is one of his best-known watercolor works.

Georgia O’Keeffe 

Georgia O'Keeffe 

According to many critics, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was considered the “Mother of American Modernism.” While attending the School of Art Institute of Chicago, where she was among the most talented students, she trained under many notable art professors.

Even after losing most of her vision from macular degeneration, her talent did not diminish despite spending a long time in watercolor, considered a medium for amateur women artists at the time.

In 2014, one of O’Keeffe’s paintings was sold for $44.4 million, making her one of the highest paying artists in history.

Charles Demuth

In 1883, Charles Demuth, a native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was born. A devoted cubist for most of his career after studying at various American and French art academies, you can see this in works like Sail: In Two Movements (1919) and Trees and Barns Bermuda (1917).

John Singer Sargent

He spent most of his life as an artist in London, where he lived as an expatriate after gaining training in Paris. He painted according to trends of the time.

During a time when celebrity portraiture was popular, he is well known for his portraits. Sargent adopted contemporary styles and media as well as traditional oil on canvas painting methods as he developed his portrait style.

The Brooklyn Museum purchased 83 out of 86 watercolors that Sargent sold in his 1909 exhibit where he produced over 2,000 watercolors.


Ornithologists see birds from around the world singing

As part of the Insolation Safety Series, Dimas Rebus painted “To lone ornithologists, birds from all over are singing.” 

A distorted bird stands against a basketball ring in this miniature painting created by Rebus using watercolor, chemical solutions, and rainwater (though it’s unclear how its presence influences the painting).

Peasants asleep

Picasso’s art, whether it is a painting, sculpture, drawing, or a book, speaks volumes. A mixed media painting in gouache, watercolor, and pencil such as The Sleeping Peasants (1919) illustrates this point. 

In this painting, Picasso shows the contrast between the lives of poor peasants and the rich, and how this peasant couple are unbound by morals or etiquette, able to sleep without any care.

Beaches with fishing boats

Beaches with fishing boats

In addition to his oil on canvas works, van Gogh also painted amazing watercolors, including a scene at the village of Sainte-Maries in the Mediterranean, Fishing Boats on the Beach (1888). 

The brush strokes and vibrant colors evoke the style of van Gogh. His vibrant watercolors also evoke van Gogh.

I Am the Purple Virgin

She is known for her suggestive paintings and photography, most of which depict her. She is one of the most accomplished watercolor painters. Purple Virgin (2004) is one of these evocative, yet oddly honest paintings, which portray women like their male counterparts with base desires. 

With this painting, Emin uses watercolor as a mature medium using only squiggles and lines to depict a naked woman lying with her legs opened, presumably after being in the throes of passion.

His paintings are called the Helga Paintings

With the Helga pictures, a series of 247 painted studies of Helga Testorf, some of whom were nude, Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) gained controversy. 

A romantic painting in this series is Daydream (1991). Leonard E. B. Andrews’s personal art gallery now holds the majority of these works.


What was the inventor of watercolor?

As to where the use of watercolor began, no one person or civilization can claim credit. But several artists did popularize watercolors as a medium for mature paintings. Paul Sandby, also referred to as the Father of English watercolors, is one of them. 

Known for their style and technique, Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner were also pioneers of modern watercolor. 

Anthony Copley Fielding, William Havel, Samuel Palmer, John Sell Cotman, and Samuel Prout are other important watercolorists in history.

How do you create watercolors?

Painters use watercolor for the medium, while watercolors refer to the painting itself. Because watercolors are translucent, they can be layered easily. 

When was watercolor first developed?

Paint containing watercolors was invented in the late 1400s for use in western art. Nevertheless, watercolor paints were not consistently consistent, since artists kept their formulas secret, especially if they mastered a particular color.

What are the steps to painting watercolors?

Painting methods can be chosen by a watercolor artist. Like Rebecca Latham, some individuals go into wildlife illustration to share their passion for nature. Those who become botanical illustrators dedicate their lives to educating future generations through botanical illustrations.

Depending on their personal style, others may enjoy painting large wall paintings or portrait miniatures. During her time, abstract expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler defined themselves within the tradition of watercolor.


It was fascinating to learn about the history of watercolor paints. For those of you who are artists or simply enjoy painting, this article has provided a wealth of information on the evolution of watercolors throughout time.

These facts should have been fun and informative for you! Any further questions about watercolors can be asked in the comments below.

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