Having existed in Europe for at least three centuries it only became prominent in England in the 1700s through an artist called Paul Sandby (1725-1809), one of the founder members of the Royal Academy.
Of the many other watercolour painters of that era one of the best known is J.M.W. Turner (1725-1809) , the English romantic landscape artist. Watercolours were used as a means of quickly capturing a mood, and as such were used as a second string to many artists' bow.
Notable 19th Century watercolour painters included John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942), and Sir William Russell Flint (1880-1969) bridged across to the 20th Century. In the 20th Century watercolour came popular in its own right, and artists would often be dedicated to that medium alone, as opposed to supplementing other techniques of painting.
Watercolour is one of the most versatile means available for capturing the essence of a scene, and is able to convey much through subtlety and understatement.