A very British art affair at Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum’s x Frank – a collaboration between the London department store and collector Frank Cohen – returns for a third exhibition, which this year puts artist John Virtue in the frame

From left: Fortnum CEO Ewan Venters, artist John Virtue and collector Frank Cohen
From left: Fortnum CEO Ewan Venters, artist John Virtue and collector Frank Cohen | Image: Phillip Sinden. Courtesy of Fortnum & Mason

There are many things that are archetypically British – tea, biscuits, Stilton, oatcakes, the Macintosh or a well-made umbrella. British art also has its own sense of style and approach – from the visceral beauty of Freud and Auerbach to the irreverence of the YBAs. Hence, it’s fitting that iconic London department store Fortnum & Mason is emphasising this British inventiveness in its third exhibition with collector Frank Cohen, from Monday September 10 to Saturday October 20.

John Virtue’s Untitled No 1 (2012-17)
John Virtue’s Untitled No 1 (2012-17) | Image: Courtesy of Albion Barn
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Cohen met Fortnum CEO Ewan Venters at an event at Mark Hix’s Tramshed restaurant in east London five years ago. Aware of Cohen’s past ventures exhibiting at his own temporary space, Dairy Art Centre, and at Manchester Art Gallery, Venters suggested an exhibition of highlights from his collection in-store at Fortnum. Cohen enlisted Robert Upstone to curate. This has evolved into a platform for artists Cohen has supported. Last year it focused on the work of John Bellany. This year it is the turn of John Virtue.

John Virtue’s Landscape No 43 (1986-87)
John Virtue’s Landscape No 43 (1986-87) | Image: Courtesy of Albion Barn
John Virtue’s Landscape No 174 (1990-92)
John Virtue’s Landscape No 174 (1990-92) | Image: Courtesy of Albion Barn

Virtue, who studied with Frank Auerbach at the Slade and has exhibited at the Serpentine, National Gallery and Tate St Ives, is a natural fit for Cohen’s collection. “I’ve always championed modern British artists and feel the market is only growing in the current climate,” Cohen enthuses. “Virtue is able to work on a contemporary scale and his expansive landscapes have always managed to retain my attention. I felt this was a perfect time to bring his work to an international Frieze audience.”

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There will be some 70 artworks (£2,200-£95,000) on display at the Fortnum’s x Frank 2018 showcase (FXF18), which offers a survey of the British painter’s work over the past 30 years. The emphasis is on his large-scale English landscapes, which veer towards the abstract. Virtue, who is based on the Norfolk coast, begins with ink sketches made on long walks, which he transforms into large paintings made with acrylic, shellac and ink. As Cohen notes, “In my mind, he is one of the greats too – totally unique, tough and uncompromising in his art.”

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