Unseen works by landscape artist John Virtue to go on show at Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason, the storied purveyor of quintessentially British food and homewares, has announced a new instalment of its annual partnership with art collector Frank Cohen, this time exhibiting a series of paintings by British artist John Virtue. This follows on from the inaugural presentation in 2016 of works from Cohen’s own collection, and last year’s exhibition featuring Scottish painter John Bellany.
Come September, 70 of Virtue’s monochromatic landscapes and seascapes will be shown amid the lavish interior of Fortnum’s flagship London store on Piccadilly. It’s a bold match: the artist has previously deemed colour an ‘unnecessary distraction’, and works exclusively in shellac black ink and white acrylic paint. Fortnum’s – famous for its Eau De Nil green merchandise and sumptuous red carpeting – has rarely seen such a restrained palette as Virtue’s.
Untitled No.1, 2012-17, by John Virtue, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Albion Barn
Often known as the Manchester Medici, Cohen has long championed modern art through his collection and his support of various prizes. His decision to support Virtue’s work, he says, comes at a time when ‘the whole world has gone contemporary mad’. This show is an effort to ‘steady the boat’ – the artist seems to channel the energy and the essence of the English Old Master tradition in his sweeping landscapes. While the paintings remain abstract, the viewer is tasked with the challenge of discerning the famous landmarks of London, such as the London Eye and the Gherkin.
The exhibition, which will last for one month, comes in good time just as the London Design Festival and Frieze draw in the global art and design communities. And while Fortnum’s has traditionally been focused on its culinary expertise – as their world-famous afternoon teas would suggest – it has been long-time advocate of the visual arts.
The potential synaesthesia of sight and taste comes as a boon to Ewan Venters, CEO of Fortnum & Mason. ‘Art enhances the sensory pleasure of the store, and creates an intellectual pleasure for those that enjoy it,’ he enthuses. ‘With Frank’s astute collector’s eye and Robert [Upstone]’s impeccable curation, we are able to challenge and inspire our customers as they move throughout the store.’ §