Watercolour painting is extremely old, dating possibly to the cave paintings of palaeolithic Europe, and has been used for manuscript illustration since at least Egyptian times but especially in the European Middle Ages.
However, its non-stop history as an artwork medium begins with the Renaissance. The German Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), who painted several fine botanical, wildlife, and landscape watercolours, is usually regarded among the earliest exponents of watercolour. An important school of watercolour portray in Germany was led through Hans Bol (1534–1593) as part of the Dürer Renaissance.
Despite this early start, watercolours were normally used by Baroque easel painters only for sketches, copies or cartoons (full-scale design drawings). Notable early practitioners of watercolour painting were Van Dyck (during his stay in England), Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, and many Dutch and Flemish artists.
However, botanical illustration and natural world illustration form the oldest and most important traditions in watercolour painting. Botanical illustrations grew to be popular all through the Renaissance, both as hand-tinted woodblock illustrations in books or broadsheets and as tinted ink drawings on vellum or paper.
Botanical artists have historically been some of the most exacting and accomplished watercolour painters, and even today, watercolours—with their unique capacity to summarize, clarify, and idealize in full colour—are used to illustrate scientific and museum publications. Wildlife illustration reached its peak in the 19th century with artists such as John James Audubon, and nowadays many naturalist area guides are still illustrated with watercolour paintings.
Watercolour is a painting technique in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. Watercolor refers to both the medium and the resulting artwork.