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How digital watercolours are preserving history

American painter Thomas Kinkade once said: “Art transcends cultural boundaries”.

Art is what bonds us, unites us, and ties us together, which  is why the need to preserve and protect historical art has never been greater.

Photography and camera technology continues to evolve, and is more accessible than previously.

However, these advancements often encourage – even if unintentionally – to forget that it was only just before the turn of the 20th century that photographic film was first pioneered.

Before then, visual history could only be captured and documented through the work of artists.

Art history is often reserved for the most notable artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso; all of them revered for their work with oil paint. Their highly textured, vibrant works stand out in history, but it is in fact watercolours that hold the key to the past.

Watercolours date back to the Paleolithic ages when natural pigments were used to document events, cultural practices, and stories on cave walls.

Throughout history, they have made their mark being used in the Egyptian era, throughout Chinese cultural history, and beyond.

Watercolours have truly transcended time, allowing us to glimpse into the past and learn from our collective history. However, the longevity of historical watercolours is at risk and, as we move into an increasingly digital world, watercolours must establish their place to ensure they are preserved.

With this in mind, UK-based charity Watercolour World has since 2016 been preserving and protecting watercolours to secure their place in the future.

To date, the organisation has collectively digitised more than 80,000 pre-1900 watercolour paintings that would otherwise be lost to time.

Art is an integral part of our history, and having access to these key pieces helps us to understand the world we live in, where we come from, and how we can grow together.

Watercolours can tell the stories in a waythe written word can’t by bringing history to life, and we must ensure that future generations have access to them.

Watercolours offer us a unique lens through which we can experience history from the artist’s eye in the absence of photography.

The more of these historical works we can preserve in the digital space, the better we can understand how people lived, and how the world has changed.

We cannot indefinitely preserve original watercolours, but we can now ensure that they are kept alive in the digital space.

The vital work of organisations like Watercolour World not only preserves and protects our visual history but also guarantees that generations to come can access these integral parts of it.

The world is constantly changing, and as we rapidly advance into the future, it has never been more important for us to be able to look to the past for guidance in newly accessible online spaces.

Watercolour World’s incredible free database is available to view on its website, where you can explore both the world we live in, and the world of watercolours, from the comfort of your home.

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