Art has always been the most popular way to document what one sees, hears, and feels, long before we were putting our every thought online through the mediums of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
When there were no satellites to beam internet connections directly to our homes, the easiest way to share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions was to write about them… or communicate them through painting and drawing.
Artists and art-lovers alike would argue that striving to share and make visible art from the past for those to come is vital for society’s development, the preservation of history, and our collective culture.
Unfortunately, whilst looking at a painting to analyze its content does not provide the instant gratification of information we are all so used to now that everything is at our fingertips, ensuring that the information it carries reaches future generations is pivotal.
Case Study – The Marandi Foundation
Husband and wife duo Javad Marandi and Narmina Marandi — joint chairs of their charity, The Marandi Foundation — have been working together to support underprivileged children, families, and entire communities since they began their work in 2017.
Focusing on four key areas, their priorities are mental health and wellbeing, cultural history preservation, access to a world-class education for disadvantaged children and both national and public art institutions across the United Kingdom.
Supporting the arts and extending access to art history is a passion project of this dream team, who provide funding to, amongst many deserving recipients, the Serpentine Galleries, two of London’s pioneering artistic endeavors.
Further support is given to the expansion of the Tate Gallery’s art collection via the European Collection Circle, with an ethos of increasing public engagement and understanding of both historic and contemporary British and international art.
The Watercolour World
One of their major contributions to the preservation of history through the use of art and technology is their continuous funding of The Watercolour World, a charity that grants free online access to documentary watercolours painted before 1900.
Prior to the camera’s invention, the world and its history were documented on canvas, using watercolours; for centuries, amateur and professional painters alike have created countless images that serve to document and portray a snapshot of the world and human life as they saw it.
Each of those paintings has it’s own story to tell, but unfortunately, so many of them are behind the barriers of archives, albums and library store-rooms, too fragile to be displayed for public viewing: this is where The Watercolour World comes in.
A great deal of the images accessible on the website have been provided by anonymous private collectors — unfortunately, these cannot be visited in person, but should you be compelled to see a painting in person, you can contact TWW for help.
What Can You Find on the Site?
Paintings range from depictions of ordinary or imaginary folk to documentations of key historical events, with a vast expanse of buildings, landscapes, seascapes, animals, plants and people to examine.
Also available are satirical images, designs, hand-coloured prints and pen and ink drawings, provided that they are either of considerable documentary value or in some way related to watercolours already on the website.
Everything displayed through The Watercolour World has been vetted as having this aforementioned documentary value, which they define as ‘show[ing] us something of the world as the artist witnessed it’.
Who Decides What Is Preserved?
Deciding what is featured on the website is a particularly tricky, complicated process, which can be surprisingly complex and subjective. Gathering digital images from all over the world is tough — there are so many!
Primarily, TWW is seeking documentary watercolours produced prior to 1900, but when you begin digging through paintings, questions about which ones are most relevant will start to arise quite quickly, and everyone’s opinion is different.
Particular paintings are instantaneously recognisable as documentary — a traveller’s painting of a landmark, an artist painting a friend’s portrait and a study of plants from a botanist are all works created to record a piece of history, usually at the scene.
Some pieces can appear documentary at first, but are later revealed to be figments of the artist’s imagination, where others might be unrecognisable to some and to others a clear depiction of a historical scene.
Each of these artworks would tell us something of relevance about that artist and the world they live in, even if that is not strictly ‘documentary’; TWW try to select those images that are clearly connected to a real person, place or event.
Artists are also vetted: were they plausibly around to witness an event or know the subject of their painting firsthand? Someone’s painting of a battle that happened before they were born, for instance, would not be included.
The Internet is the greatest source of information we have the quickest ease of access to; technology has proved an invaluable tool in documenting art in order to preserve history for future generations.
As technological advances continue, print mediums will likely fall further out of use — likely as an attempt to combat the destruction of trees and protect the environment, as there’s no point documenting our history if nobody is around to see it!
Why Is Preserving History Important?
The world can only learn from the mistakes we have made in the past as a society, or benefit from recognising our past successes, or show people a reflection of themselves from before they were even alive if we have easy access to history.
You might be able to help The Watercolour World in their venture to bring art history to future generations through their ‘into the unknown’ section, which asks viewers to determine the location of paintings that aren’t widely recognisable.
Should you spot a painting that has not been categorised and know what (or where, or who!) is being depicted, leave them a comment beneath the relevant image and be a part of ensuring that our history is as thorough and accurate as it can be.
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