London As You’ve Never Seen It Before

Virtue “The scale and drama of the largest of these works takes your breath away. This is art as theatrical spectacle.”

The works so acclaimed are a series of monumental black-and-white paintings of the London cityscape by John Virtue (b. 1947), former Associate Artist of the National Gallery, London (2003-2005). These paintings, along with several dozen drawings of London that served as their inspiration, will be on display beginning today at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, as part of the exhibition London: John Virtue.

“I have no interest in recording a rhetorical history of London; really I’m interested in making exciting abstractions from what I perceive,” Virtue says about the London series. The epic paintings are the result of Virtue’s meticulous observation of the London cityscape. Every weekday morning for two years, regardless of the weather, Virtue would draw what he saw from three different locales in London–a spot on the South Bank of the Thames, the roof of Somerset House, and the roof of the National Gallery–before entering his studio in the basement of the National Gallery, where he used his drawings as the raw material for his canvases.


The result is an imaginative and inimitable vision of contemporary London, paintings, according to one reviewer, “rich in contradictions but at the same time…strong, assertive and self-assured of their depiction of the landscape and atmosphere of the city.”

“All the pictures work best from a certain distance,” says another review, “but it is essential to step up close to them to examine the brushed, stained and dripped surfaces. There isn’t an inch of these canvases that doesn’t crackle with excitement.”


London: John Virtue runs through April 23 at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. The catalog to the exhibition, John Virtue: London Paintings, is distributed by Yale University Press.

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