Launch of global initiative to save records of how the world looked before photography

by Feb 1, 2019News0 comments

The Watercolour World (TWW), a new online project which uses an overlooked artform to help reveal the world as it looked before photography is being launched today.

Before the invention of the portable camera, most accurate visual records of the world were made in watercolour. While a huge number of these images still exist, they are fragile, inaccessible, and are increasingly being lost. There is an urgent need to save them and to make them available to a wider public.

The Watercolour World will allow everyone to see these important images together for the first time, and even use them to help solve many of the challenges we face today, from combating climate change to helping rebuild heritage sites destroyed in war.

The free, interactive website will act as a unique gateway to the global collection of documentary watercolours made before 1900 in both public and private hands. Users can search either by place or by subjects covering topography, botany, zoology, historic events and human activities and achievements of all kinds.

The project already comprises around 80,000 images, many of which have been digitised for the first time by The Watercolour World. Among the highlights are 19thcentury paintings of the tomb of Seti I, which were used to create full-scale reconstructions of the ancient Egyptian site, and a wide range of images showing the long-term effects of climate change such as coastal erosion along England’s south coast and glacial retreat in the Alps.

The project also shines a light on the hundreds of women artists who were accomplished watercolourists including Queen Victoria, Maria Sibylla Merian, Susan Fereday and Mrs Delany.

Monkey, Undated, Peter Paillou

The Watercolour World is the brainchild of Fred Hohler, the British former diplomat who founded the Public Catalogue Foundation in 2002, which photographed and published over 200,000 oil paintings in public ownership in Britain for the first time. He is joined by Andra Fitzherbert as Chief Executive of The Watercolour World.

PFU, a Fujitsu company, is The Watercolour World’s Technology Partner, providing state-of-the-art scanning equipment for the project’s digitisation effort.

The joint royal patrons are HRH The Prince of Wales – one of the foremost users of watercolours today – and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Watercolour World is wholly funded by The Marandi Foundation, a London-based charity chaired by British entrepreneurs and philanthropists Javad and Narmina Marandi.

The Watercolour World is calling on members of the public to get in touch if they own any pre-1900 watercolours that they believe would be useful additions to the project. They can do so by contacting TWW via

Javad Marandi, Chairman of the Advisory Board, said:

“Watercolours are a priceless record of the world before photography. Many of them would be of great interest to historians, scientists and members of the general public, but are hidden from view and at risk of disappearing. We are proud to be supporting The Watercolour World project as it shines a critically important new light on the world’s historical record.”

Fred Hohler, Founder of The Watercolour World said:

“The Watercolour World will offer an extraordinary journey into the world in earlier times, to encounter our predecessors, and to observe how they lived, loved and played. 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. And to conservationists and historians, it will provide the evidence to conserve and rebuild structures, to find lost places and to see the roots of human progress.”

Andra Fitzherbert, CEO, said:

“What is really exciting about The Watercolour World is how we are using the power of the digital age to harness the traditional skills found in documentary watercolours. Not only are these valuable records of our past, but I believe we will facilitate new insights and learning by aggregating them, using our keyword search, filters, maps and zoom to navigate this content in new ways. I can’t wait to see how people use the site to share their watercolours and knowledge, and find new combinations, explore new places, delve deeper into historical context, or just enjoy the photography of its day!”

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