John Singer Sargent, Bed of a Glacier Torrent
Jenkins Papers, photography by Joss Bany

Royal Watercolour Society Archive

The Royal Watercolour Society is the oldest watercolour society in the world with an almost complete sequence of documents relating to its organisation from its beginnings in 1804, and its first exhibition the following year, up to the present day. Our resources include minute books, correspondence, catalogues and sale registers. Of particular importance are the Jenkins Papers, a collection of letters and papers brought together by Joseph Jenkins, the Secretary to the Society from 1854 to 1864. Among them are files on more than one hundred nineteenth century artists with significant material relating to Members such as Samuel Palmer, William Henry Hunt and David Cox.


The Diploma collection

The Society's collection of watercolour paintings, the Diploma Collection, was founded following a proposal made in 1860, that each newly elected Member present a picture on his election to the Society.

This internationally important collection now numbers some 900 items, mostly individual watercolours, although the RWS has also accumulated works in other media including oil paintings as well as etchings, engravings and sculpture.

Represented in the collection are such diverse artists as John Varley, David Cox, Peter De Wint, Samuel Palmer, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Laurence Alma Tadema, John Singer Sargent, Joseph Southall, Dame Laura Knight, David Jones, Stanley Roy Badmin, Patrick Procktor, Peter Blake, Leslie Worth and Ken Howard. Non-Members represented include George Romney and David Roberts.


The archive is available for research purposes by prior appointment. Please contact the Archivist to arrange.

Researchers are advised to consult The Business of Watercolour, a Guide to the Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society (Ashgate 1997) by Simon Fenwick and Greg Smith.


The RWS has an active program of loaning works of art and archive materials.

Any institution wishing to borrow original paintings or documents for exhibition must provide the Archivist with a facilities report for all venues, prior to final approval. All documents must be insured with all risk, wall-to wall coverage.

Please contact the Archivist at least three months prior to the date of the planned exhibition. Please note that the RWS does charge a loan fee for borrowed objects. This fee does not include or cover the cost of shipping, insurance, or reproduction; other fees may also apply.

Support the Archive

The RWS, as a registered charity, is seeking funding for the digitisation of its outstanding collection of some 900 watercolours and drawings.

The digitisation of the collection and archive will revolutionise the study of watercolour painting in Britain. With funding we aim to provide improved access, search and retrieval facilities, provide a greater understanding of original works through superior indexing, ensuring continued access to fragile originals and to enhance public knowledge, recognition and understanding of the collection.

Works for sale

Works by past RWS Members including Erlund Hudson, David Glück and Elizabeth Scott-Moore are available to buy.

Frequently asked questions

Unfortunately, we are not permitted to give appraisals nor advise you on how much an object or collection may be worth.

Contact the RWS Archive

For further information please email