Research Point: Project 5: John Virtue

John Virtue is an English artist who focuses solely on creating black and white landscapes in a semi-abstract way. Whilst his work has great influence by such other English artists as Turner and Constable, he also allows for an influence from the American abstract expressionism and an enjoyment in oriental brush-painting. In his earlier years, Virtue’s pieces were largely recreations of the Oswaldtwistle, which was close to where he was raised, and were created in paint and later in pen and ink, white acrylic paint and shellac on canvas.

Later, Virtue gave up his career as a postman and relocated to Devon, creating pieces of the landscapes of the Exe estuary from his studio in Exeter.

Virtue was then offered the amazing opportunity to become the sixth Associate Artist at The National Gallery in 2003, where he created numerous paintings of London to compliment the works of the Old Masters held within the gallery and to become a piece of its history.

When looking at Virtue’s work, I cannot help but be drawn in by the strong tonal contrasts and the different intensities of the black / grey. Some parts of his pieces are very much abstract, whilst others are rather defined, for example, in Fig. 4., the clouds and detailing to the right appears rather blurred, whereas to the left, the piece appears rather defined. It is clear that Virtue defines those areas of the painting he wishes to be the focal points, whilst the rest is simply there to draw your eye around the piece from one focal point to the other.

The softness to the edges in the majority of the pieces gives a warmth to the atmosphere, whereas the stark black and white seems to give the piece a sense of cold and foreboding. It is also not immediately apparent what the pieces are or what they represent, which I think draws the viewer’s intrigue and a desire to know more. That moment of clarity when you look closer and see a landmark you are familiar with hidden amongst the mass of black and white is phenomenal to me!

I love the use of black and white and I can definitely see some of my own style of working within these pieces, so I think I will try to bear this in mind when creating my own work.

List of Illustrations

Fig.1. Virtue, J (Unknown) John Virtue at work in his studio [Photograph] At: (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

Fig.2. Virtue, J (Unknown) Monochrome Painting At: (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

Fig.3. Virtue, J (2004) Landscape No.739 [acrylic & shellac on canvas] At: Bridgeman Education (Accessed on 24 June 2019)

Fig.4. Virtue, J (2005) [Unknown] At: (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)


Artnet (Unknown) ‘John Virtue’ [Online] At: (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

The National Gallery (Unknown) ‘John Virtue: Associate Artist 2003-5’ [Online] At: (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

Yale University Press (2005) ‘John Virtue: London Paintings’ [Online] At: (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

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