The exhibition includes works from a number of leading English watercolourists from the 18th and 19th centuries including Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Girtin, Alexander and John Robert Cozens and J.M.W. Turner. Some have never been publicly exhibited by the school before.
“These are watercolours you don’t see coming up for sale,” says curator Guy Peppiatt, who is a British watercolour and drawings specialist as well as a regular exhibitor at the fair. “There are a lot of museum quality watercolours, which casual visitors to the fair might not see.”
He volunteered for the position of curator along with fellow watercolour specialist and exhibitor Charles Nugent, himself an Old Etonian, and the two chose most of the works during day trip to Eton.
There is not a dedicated collecting budget for the college; instead, the collection has been built up over the years, mainly the result of gifts to the college from former students – Peppiatt refers particularly to a large gift from the Pilkington family in the 1960s and 70s, and the legacies of former housemasters.
During their visit, Peppiatt estimates that he and Nugent saw around 80% of the collection, made a provisional list of around 70-80 works and finally settled on just under 40 pieces.
Peppiatt hopes that the presence of these “museum-quality works” will engage savvy regulars and attract first-time visitors to the fair.
“These works are in museums but aren’t exhibited so much,” he says, a fact attributable to the careful conservation and space needed to care for and exhibit these works.
The Works on Paper Fair runs from 9-12 February at the Royal Geographical Society.
Philippa Martin, keeper of fine and decorative art at Eton who helped organise the exhibition, will present the works in a talk on Friday 10 February.