Watercolours are, according to many art connoisseurs in Italy, the supreme creation of British art. It would be difficult to disagree with this statement: there is something very Anglo-Saxon about bringing a sketch pad and a set of water-colours along with oneself, especially when visiting exotic countries. One has just to think of the wonderful examples from such names as Turner, Palmer, Blake, Cotman, Ravilious and, to bring the list more up-to-date, Hockney.
Why should water-colours be particularly associated with Britain? There is no room for corrections – or ‘pentimenti’ as they like to call them in Italy – when water-colouring. Everything has to be done on the spot and spontaneously too. Perhaps the answer lies in the British weather itself: always changing for better or for worst with a fickle light and transient shades. There’s no time for Mediterranean reflections on wall-to-wall blue skies and clear sunsets – they just don’t happen that often in those northern isles…
This is why it’s a real challenge for an Italian artist to attempt to do watercolours rather than use any of the other media that country has invented, like tempera, oils and fresco. Indeed, one has to go back to someone like Albrecht Durer to discover the origins of a technique which many Italian artists would dismiss as only suitable for ‘bozzi di aquarelle’ (watercolour sketches) for their more grandiose oil canvases.
Gabriele Piccinini’s exhibition at Bagni di Lucca’s Shelley House shows what an accomplished watercolourist he is. His views of alleys, squares, buildings and landscapes in various Italian locations are to be compared with those of the finest watercolourists. It’s no coincidence that the title of the show is in English: ‘ Water and Life’. Piccinini shows a truly affective bond with the places he depicts as these examples show. I’m sure some of you will recognize Vernazza of the Cinque Terre and the characteristic Milan tram among them. The charm of the painter’s subject does not distract from a subtle technique which comprises the virtuoso use of Indian ink.
The watercolours are on sale at very reasonable prices and the exhibition will last until 15th April (Thurs to Sats). For more information see Shelley House’s facebook page at