As Britain prepared for the pomp and pageantry of King Charles III’s coronation ceremony — code-named Operation Golden Orb, seven Canadian watercolor artists were preparing a special gift to commemorate the occasion. Celebrated for their unique creative expression and artistic excellence, the painters invited to contribute a painting for the offering came from different parts of the country, each affiliated with one or more important Canadian art societies, including the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Society of Canadian Artists.
“For the coronation gift, I chose one of my favorite recent paintings of the ocean,” says Nova Scotia artist Poppy Balser. “I wanted to send something representative of the part of Canada that most inspires me. The Bay of Fundy is a unique feature of the Canadian coast, and so this seemed a perfect painting to send.”
Balser’s work, along with paintings by Shari Blaukopf, Neville Clarke, Linda Kemp, Peter Marsh, Lin Souliere, and Rayne Tunley, will join pieces by some of history’s most renowned artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, in the Royal Trust Collection, described as one of the greatest art collections in the world.
The idea for the gift started with Kemp, an Ontario artist who painted her contribution, Niagara Spring Landscape, specifically for the occasion. “I was born and raised in Niagara,” she says. “There’s really nothing more beautiful than our landscape in the spring, with the blossoms out and the fields just coming back with that fabulous green. My first attempt was a no-go, which happens with watercolor sometimes, so I did a second one. When it was done, I said, ‘Yes, I’m happy with this.’ I think it captures the feeling of the area that I love.”
Kemp has spoken several times in person to King Charles III, a fellow artist. “He’s a watercolor painter, and quite a good one,” she says. “He’s also an honorary member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour.”
A ROYAL PASTIME
The king’s use of watercolor wasn’t his primary creative pursuit, however. First, he experimented with photography, a favorite hobby of his mother’s, but ultimately gave it up. He was quoted in material provided for a 2022 exhibition: “Quite simply, I experienced an overwhelming urge to express what I saw through the medium of watercolor and to convey that almost ‘inner’ sense of texture, which is impossible to achieve via photography.”
With watercolor, he added, “you become increasingly aware of things that may have escaped your attention previously — things like the quality of light and shade, of tone and texture, and of the shape of buildings in relation to the landscape. It all requires the most intense concentration and, consequently, is one of the most relaxing and therapeutic exercises I know.”
Still, anyone who has tried their hand at the medium knows it has its challenges. “I very quickly discovered how incredibly difficult it is to paint well in such a spontaneous medium, and the feeling of frustration at not being able to achieve on paper the image that your eye has presented you with is intense,” he said
“Looking back now at those first sketches I did, I am appalled by how bad they are. But, nevertheless, the great thing about painting is that you are making your own individual interpretation of whatever view you have chosen.”
Although he received little formal art training, the monarch has met with a number of prominent British artists over the years. Most notably, he discussed watercolor technique with the late Edward Seago, and took lessons from professionals Derek Hill, John Ward, and Bryan Organ.
Before his coronation, Charles was known to take his sailcloth and leather painting bag with him on royal tours. When his schedule allowed, his preference was to sit directly in the environment and paint en plein air. Heralding the restorative benefits of making art, he says the act “transports me to another dimension.”
A self-described “enthusiastic amateur,” the king is actually one of the most financially successful living artists in the United Kingdom. Between 1997 and 2016, an investigation by the Telegraph’s Robert Mendick found that prints of the royal’s paintings sold for more than £6 million (around $8.9 million today). All proceeds went to the Prince’s Foundation, which supports a range of charitable endeavors.
Celebrate the medium fit for a king at next year’s Watercolor Live! Follow along as top artists from around the world demonstrate their processes and ask them questions in real time!