I believe the average collector doesn’t realize that watercolors are one of the most difficult mediums to paint with and take so much time to master. Materials in this age are also much more archival than in the past and much more expensive. Framing a watercolor is not easy. I used to work in a frame shop, so I learned a lot about how to frame a watercolor. Using the right supplies, and picking archival mats and museum glass, help in preserving the watercolor for the future. Most collectors like the look of oils, which are framed without glass, but now there is non-glare glass and others that give an almost no-glass look.
Painting with watercolor is definitely a dance between accuracy and a loose handling of the medium, and it is exactly that thrill that is visible and so appealing in the final painting. I think that’s one of the reasons that more and more collectors are choosing to add watercolors to their prestigious collections, especially when it is clear in this day and age that longevity is no longer a real concern with this medium. In fact, collectors buy more of my watercolors than oils at plein air events where I have both on offer.
Watercolor has a very long tradition, way older than oil, if we think of Chinese art. Collectors should understand that mastering the art of watercolor is harder than any other media. Masters such as Anders Zorn, John Singer Sargent, Giovanni Boldini, and J.M.W. Turner all painted beautifully in both oil and watercolor. Doubt about the durability of paper as a support is risible. Today’s papers have a stunning museum quality: 100 percent cotton, acid-free, and archival — and they can be more costly than canvas! Remember, papyrus came intact from ancient Egypt. Nowadays pigments are also of super quality. All in all, watercolor should be valued and priced equally if not more than oil paintings. So, my advice to collectors: Better buy now while watercolors are still accessible!
Watercolor is an extremely durable art medium as long as the paintings are properly framed, hung, or stored. I don’t believe watercolor will never override the dominance of oil, but for the collector, a watercolor can be an intimate insight into the artist’s thinking.
Collectors can seek out painters’ watercolors as an insight to their oils. Or focus on artists whose main body of work is in watercolor as way to build an art collection. What someone collects is an extremely personal decision, but it can also be influenced by timing or opportunity, by peers, education, cultural, or social cues.
I think the worst misconception about watercolor is that it isn’t archival. I also struggle with the whole framing issue. I understand that glass tends to create a separation between the viewer and the painting and frankly, it’s an added cost (both for framing and shipping). To combat that disconnect and cost, I have stretched watercolor paper on stretcher bars, then fixed the finished pieces with an acrylic coating, and framed them just like an oil. But until the watercolor organizations start accepting these non-traditional framing techniques, it will be a hard switch for me to make.