Tony Foster: Watercolor Diaries, Cornwall to Colorado

Tony Foster (born 1946) is a British artist who lives in Cornwall, with “its beautiful landscape, benign climate and relaxed ambience, all conducive to the making of art.” And yet, Foster adds, “it is ironic that I travel from there, deliberately seeking places where few people, and even fewer artists, have ever set foot.”

In 1984, Foster traveled on foot and by canoe from Maine to Massachusetts, inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) and guided by the writer’s words: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.” That journey resulted in the exhibition Thoreau’s Country: A Visual Diary by Tony Foster, which opened at the Yale Center for British Art a year later, in May 1985.

In 1986, after his New England experience, Foster set out to hike 215 miles of the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Lone Pine, California, which he undertook as an “homage to the patron saint of American national parks.” In 1988 he made the first of his painting expeditions to the Grand Canyon, and in 1998–99 he retraced the steps of the nineteenth-century explorers Lewis and Clark between the Musselshell and Snake Rivers in Montana and Idaho.

Elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1994, Foster received the RGS Cherry Kearton Memorial Medal in 2001 “for his artistic portrayal of the world’s wilderness.” This intrepid artist-explorer has traveled much of the world, always in search of its unspoiled natural beauty, “recording [his] experiences, sharing the delight of [his] discoveries, and arguing for the protection of these fragile places.” During 2005–6, Foster made three different trips to Nepal and Tibet to paint Everest, the Earth’s highest mountain above sea level, producing very large works in difficult circumstances on site.

In September 2017, Foster returned to the Grand Canyon to embark on a rafting expedition down the Colorado River. He produced a series of watercolors that provide a detailed pictorial record of the journey. Those watercolors—a gift to the Center—are on view here, along with work from earlier trips and from his new project, About Time.


Tony Foster: Watercolor Diaries, Cornwall to Colorado has been curated by Duncan Robinson, former director of the Yale Center for British Art and of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge; and Elisabeth Fairman, Chief Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Center.

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Tony Foster: Watercolor Diaries, Cornwall to Colorado installation, Yale Center for British Art, photo by Richard Caspole