Watercolors Unboxed

June 10, 2023–September 10, 2023

Come face-to-face with 40 rarely seen watercolors and drawings from the Worcester Art Museum’s collection. Watercolors Unboxed explores turn-of-the-century watercolors—from 1870s through the 1950s—and traces the development of watercolor from its European roots to its evolution into a particularly American art form. This exhibition will be an opportunity to reunite with iconic watercolorists like Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, and John Singer Sargent as well as a chance to discover lesser-known practitioners in the medium including Amedeo Modigliani, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Gustave Baumann. Because of their sensitivity to light, many of the featured artworks have not been on display at the Museum since the 1980s.

Watercolors Unboxed will draw from the Museum’s collection of 19th- and early 20th-century American watercolors as a foundation to consider the progression of the medium in both Europe and the United States. Highlighting American landscapes, the exhibition will demonstrate how American artists embraced watercolor as a way to document their travels, here and abroad, often working outdoors. Through works by American artists Sargent and Homer, the exhibition will explore the challenges of working with this unforgiving medium and how these artists proved to be innovators who changed the artform. Offering an expanded look at American landscape, the Museum will debut examples from its collection of watercolors from the San Ildefonso school—a group often credited as the first self-identified Native American modern art movement in the United States—as part of the exhibition. Watercolors Unboxed will also feature a significant selection of watercolors by European artists, some of whom are celebrated for their work in other media but lesser known for their work in the medium of watercolor.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a selection of contemporary watercolors by past and current WAM Studio Class students and faculty will be on display in a community gallery space outside the exhibition entrance. These local artists have formed deep relationships with WAM’s collection while building skills like underpainting, drybrush, and color blending. Learn more about class offerings and registration for youth and adults.

Watercolors Unboxed is organized by Nancy Kathryn Burns, the Worcester Art Museum’s Stoddard Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.

Please note, flash photography can damage these fragile artworks and is not permitted. Non-flash photography is allowed and encouraged.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Fletcher Foundation. Sponsored by: Kaplan Construction. Media partner: GBH.

Kaplan Construction logo

Related programs

Exhibition Tours

Saturdays and Sundays, 1:30 pm
Free with Museum admission

Space is limited. Please register at the welcome desk.

How Winslow Homer Challenged the Rules of Watercolor

Sunday, June 18, 2 pm
Tickets: $5 (Free for Members)

Speaker: Elizabeth Athens, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Connecticut, and Former Assistant Curator of American Art at the Worcester Art Museum.

Painting in the Garden

Group outdoor artmaking event
New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill
Sunday, August 13, 10 am–2 pm
Free; pre-registration required


  • Curator Nancy Burns explains why Watercolors Unboxed presents such a rare chance to see some of the most pristine watercolors from our collection.
  • Watercolors Unboxed curator Nancy Burns gives an inside look at what makes the paintings of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent so unique.
  • Olivia Stone, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, talks about Amedeo Modigliani and his work, Head of A Woman.

Selected images