RSW Paints a Colourful Scene

RSW Aine Divine, Life in Colour
Aine Divine, Life in Colour

The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) 141st Annual Exhibition

Mon - Sat 10:00 - 17:00, Sun 11:00 - 17:00 (24th Dec: 10:00 - 16:00, closed 25th and 26th Dec)

From: 11 Dec 2021

To: 27 Dec 2021

RSA Upper Galleries
The Mound
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) is an artist-led charity dedicated to promoting watercolour painting in Scotland. Founded in 1876, this year is its 141st Annual Exhibition filling the space at the RSA, Upper Galleries. Entry is free, with tickets available online and at the door.

Artmag attended the launch of the exhibition. As Scotland’s watercolour artists arrived there was a feeling of excitement in the air. They were searching for their own artwork, greeting friends and fellow artists. Prize-winning entries were awarded on the day adding a flurry of anticipation to the launch.

The annual exhibition brings together the work of RSW members and other artists who responded to the call for open submissions. Back in October, artists were invited to submit two water-based works. Hand-in was November 28th and 29th 2021.

Many of the artworks are for sale and labelled with price marked, making them easily accessible for curious browsing or to consider purchasing. Sales are handled by the RSW team on-site at the RSA. For more information, email You can view some of the works online at the RSW website.

RSWJames Morrison, St Cyrus 1969
James Morrison, ‘St Cyrus 1969’ (detail)

There are also works shown ‘in memorial’ from artists who have sadly passed away in 2020/21. All are accompanied by a tribute and biography. This includes James Morrison (St Cyrus, 1969), Brenda Lenaghan, George Mackie, David Evans, Duncan Macleod, Tom Shanks, Pat Semple, Elizabeth Blackadder, Alan Robb, and Kirkland Main.

RSW Michael Durning, Cir Mohr, Isle of Arran
Michael Durning, ‘Cir Mohr, Isle of Arran’

This year’s exhibition is a diverse selection of around 350 paintings by Scotland’s contemporary artists in watercolour and water-based media. It’s quite a colourful collection too, featuring several large scale attention-grabbing abstract works. We can see this in Summer in the Artist’s Garden by Michael Clark, Michael Durning’s Cir Mohr, Isle of Arran and Ian Cook’s Navajo Dancers, Carnival by Simon Laurie and Anthea Gage’s landscapes. These impressive and eye-catching artworks are at home in the vast gallery space of the Upper Galleries.

RSW Ian Cook, Navajo Dancers
Ian Cook, ‘Navajo Dancers’

There are artworks that stand out by their unusual methods or materials. Helga Chart’s tactile pieces spark curiosity (Birch and Birch Moths). Also Notes from the Orchard by Claire Harkess and Timeline by Janet Melrose, which has an actual school ruler attached to the painting. 

RSW Helga Chart, Birch
Helga Chart, ‘Birch’
RSW Claire Harkess, Notes from the Orchard
Claire Harkess, ‘Notes from the Orchard’

To balance this, do linger and pick out some of the smaller works above and below eye level. Take a second or third tour of the exhibition and get up close to some impressive gems and smaller artworks that benefit from a closer look. There’s an opportunity to see some sketchbooks of featured artists in display boxes. Also, a feature wall of donated artworks forms the small picture catalogue, including a sketch from Victoria Crowe.

small picture catalogue
Small picture catalogue


RSW Reinhard Behrens, Glacier Hunt
Reinhard Behrens, ‘Glacier Hunt’

Travel themes feature too, even if only in the imagination or remembered trips, with depicted locations from Venice to New Mexico and back home to Leith Victoria Docks by Moira Ferrier. The long-running fictional Naboland theme created by Reinhard Behrens – seen here in Glacier Hunt – is always a welcome treat. 

RSW Sophie Woehrling, Peace
Sophie Woehrling, ‘Peace’ (detail)

Some prizes are awarded to the most daring and experimental works. Sophie Woehrling’s Peace – landscapes painted on tiny tags – gets the RSW Watermark Award. Sophie McKay Knight is awarded the Turcan Connell Prize with the stunning When You Called Me Liar. It’s also the first year that RSW has elected a female president. Catriona Mann took the helm in October.

RSW Sophie McKay Knight, When You Called Me Liar
Sophie McKay Knight, ‘When You Called Me Liar’

There are some stunning landscapes capturing weather elements. Highlights include Clearing Mist by Jackie Stevenson, Ruth ThomasAcross the Forth and Emma DavisFlower of Scotland. Scottish Arts Club Award prize winner Pascale Rentsch also impresses with a diptych watercolour Autumn Heather, Lammermuir Hills.

RSW Jackie Stevenson, Clearing Mist
Jackie Stevenson, ‘Clearing Mist’ (detail)
RSW Emma Davis, Flower of Scotland
Emma Davis, ‘Flower of Scotland’ (detail)
RSW Pascale Rentsch, Autumn Heather, Lammermuir Hills
Pascale Rentsch, ‘Autumn Heather, Lammermuir Hills’ (detail)

There are a few portraits, including a memorable Life in Colour by Aine Divine.

RSW Aine Divine, Life in Colour
Aine Divine, ‘Life in Colour’

This exhibition is inspiring if you are thinking of buying an artwork or acquainting yourself with Scotland’s contemporary artists. It’s an opportunity to look for inspiration for your own artworks or projects. It’s also a chance to reflect upon the creative output of artists within a pandemic, an extreme collective experience that has affected all our lives in the last couple of years.

With thanks to Artmag contributor Julie Boyne for this review.

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