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.
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.
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.”
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.”