|Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874), The Rare Vase, 13 x 11 inches|
watercolor and opaque watercolor with selectively applied glaze
over traces of charcoal on paper
Walters Art Gallery
Blog reader "Unknown" asks: "I've recently read some horribly-rigid definitions for "watercolor" at some recent shows and competitions. Some go as far as to say if even just the signature is in ink it's not "watercolor" ... but "mixed-media" and excluded. This strikes me as pompous and ridiculous. Many of the past masters of watercolor intermixed transparent watercolor and gouache-like opaque watercolors. Personally I find the initial use of broad transparent washes and then gouache or casein for the details appealing, especially for plein-air painting. But I'm now concerned about compromising my work for future presentation, display, or, God forfend, eventual sale.
As an established artist, where do you stand?"
Well, if you want to succeed in competitive exhibitions, you should follow their rules. I don't enter many such exhibitions because a lot of them are money-making schemes and there are more effective ways to get my work seen.
I also don't spend much time worrying about how other people define watercolor. It's true that many watercolorists of the past and present are strict about not using opaque white, and that's OK. There is an undeniable beauty to paintings made with purely transparent watercolor.
But you're right that many previous masters, such as Anders Zorn, Adolph Menzel, Edwin Austin Abbey, Thomas Moran, Mariano (or Marià) Fortuny, and John Singer Sargent experimented with mixing media. The Pre-Raphaelites also experimented with using white gouache as a ground. Trying out new ways to combine water-based media is a healthy idea in my opinion, as long as it achieves the results you want and is valid from the point of view of archival conservation.
Wikipedia on Marià Fortuny
Read the List of Unacceptable Materials from the Transparent Watercolor Society of America
Met Museum website: Watercolor Painting in Britain, 1750–1850