Watercolours and Drawings

Plymouth City Museum and Art gallery holds about 1,300 drawings and 1,500 watercolours. The earlier 16th, 17th, and 18th century works are mainly continental in origin, whilst by far the largest single group is composed of 18th and 19th century English watercolours. There are a small number of 20th century works, most of which are local in origin.

Old Master and English drawings

Drawing of a biblical scene

There is a very important group of Old Master and English drawings of the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries in the Cottonian Collection.  These include examples of the Italian, Dutch, French and English schools by artists such as Giorgio Vasari, Filippo Napoletano, Jan van Goyen, Michael Rysbrack, Philippe Mercier, Jean-Baptiste Pillement, John Wootton and Philip James de Loutherbourg to name but a few. In subject matter they cover biblical topics, landscapes, architectural works, portraits and animal and figure studies.

18th century watercolours

Plymouth Dock from Mount Edgcumbe by J.M.W. Turner

Although the collection does not have a large number of 18th century watercolours, there are one or two individual and rare works by artists such as Paul Sandby and J.M.W. Turner.


19th century drawings

Study for Ophelia by Millais

Later donations to the collection have provided a series of late 19th century English and French drawings by artists such as George Clausen, John Everett Millais, Sir E.C. Burne-Jones, Jena-Francios Millet, Jean Louis Forain and Edgar Degas.

Topographical studies

Watercolour of people using a breakwater and sailing vessels at sea

One of the most prominent elements within the watercolours especially, is the group of topographical studies of Plymouth and its environs, and the south west region in general. A few early recordings from the 17th and 18th centuries exist, but as with the rest of the collection most of these are 19th and 20th century in date. The majority are by local watercolour artists such as Samuel Prout, Philip Mitchell, the brothers Samuel and William Cook, with a few visiting artists, particularly well represented, such as Francis Towne, William Payne and John Foulston.

20th century works

As far as later 20th century and contemporary work is concerned, there is relatively less, apart from a few drawings or watercolours of Plymouth during the war years, 1939-45, and later works of buildings, by artists such as Claude Muncaster and John Piper.