Online archive of historic watercolors paints a stark image of the ravages of climate change

The Watercolour World

Database of pre-1900 paintings

article continues below


In the 18th century, watercolors became a popular way for professional and amateur artists alike to document the landscapes, animals and plants that were important to them. Portable and aesthetically pleasing, watercolors helped bring painters' worlds to life.

Today, these works are precious and unwitting documents of a world altered by the ravages of climate change, overhunting, urbanization and other human activity. The Watercolour World, financed by the London-based Marandi Foundation, is a free online database of watercolors painted before 1900.

It's the brainchild of Fred Hohler, a former British diplomat devoted to art preservation. His last project, the Public Catalogue Foundation, a charity that is also called Art UK, catalogued all of Britain's publicly owned oil paintings.

This project brings together tens of thousands of art online. The nonprofit organization works with collectors around the world to find and digitize watercolors. It also is on the hunt for other pre-1900 watercolors that document animals, places, plants or events. So far, it has collected about 80,000 images.

The point isn't just to preserve them - it's to provide their documentary power to researchers.

"With the world at risk from climate change, rising sea levels, and worse, the project will provide scientists and environmentalists with an accurate visual account of much of the natural world as it used to be," Hohler said in a statement.

That visual testimony can be strikingly different from today's world.

For example, a search for "ice" shows chilly landscapes in the Hudson Strait, the Swiss Alps and Antarctica - three places whose ice has waned with the warming climate. The site's founders hope scientists will use the paintings as comparison points as they study phenomena such as coastal erosion and glacial retreat.

The watercolors offer other glimpses into the past, such as a circa 1638 painting of a dodo, an circa 1837 painting of a quagga zebra and an 1885 painting of a huia bird. All are extinct.


Read Related Topics


NOTE: To post a comment you must have an account with at least one of the following services: Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ You may then login using your account credentials for that service. If you do not already have an account you may register a new profile with Disqus by first clicking the "Post as" button and then the link: "Don't have one? Register a new profile".

The Prince George Citizen welcomes your opinions and comments. We do not allow personal attacks, offensive language or unsubstantiated allegations. We reserve the right to edit comments for length, style, legality and taste and reproduce them in print, electronic or otherwise. Comments that contain external links will not be permitted. For further information, please contact the editor or publisher, or see our Terms and Conditions.

comments powered by Disqus

Trudeau Conflict of Interest POLL

Should the RCMP investigate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for obstruction of justice after the ethics commissioner found Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act in the SNC-Lavalin affair?

or  view results

Sign Up For Our e-Newsletter!
  • 97/16

    Prince George's Weekly News

Popular Citizen

Community Event Calendar

Find out what's happening in your community and submit your own local events.

Lowest Gas Prices in Prince George
Prince George Gas Prices provided by