• Overview
    Virtue's blacks and whites aren't polarised absolutes: they drip and smear each other with gleeful impurity, much of the white flecked with a kind of metropolitan ashiness that gives the paint guts and substance, much of the black, streaky and loose, like road tar that refuses to set.

    Simon Sharma

    Now in his seventies, John Virtue is considered one of the most distinguished painters working in the United Kingdom today. His work is included in the collections of TATE, London, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Government Art Collection (UK), Arts Council of England and The Courtauld Institute. He is a painter whose work rides a fine line between figuration and  abstraction.

    For the last fifty years, Lancashire, the Exe estuary in Devon, London, the Italian landscape and the North Norfolk coast have been the subject of intense ritualistic scrutiny, always rendered in black and white.

    In 2003, he became the 6th associate artist at The National Gallery, London, a scheme allowing an invited contemporary artist to connect with the collection to produce work inspired by the Old Master tradition. Culminating in 2005, a group of monumental London skyline paintings were exhibited at this flagship public institution.


    In 2009, John moved to North Norfolk, where he wrestled with the enormity of sea, sky and the weather around Cley-next-the-Sea and Blakeney Point for eleven years.

    His work has been deeply influenced by giants of the past, such as John Constable, Samuel Palmer, and J M W Turner, twentieth-century greats Franz Kline, Robert Ryman and Jackson Pollock. Japanese calligraphy also heavily impacted his painting through his admiration of Ike no Taiga (Edo period) and Sengai Gibon (Rinzai School).

    In 2019, a monograph covering over forty years of John's work was published by ALBION Ridinghouse. This two-hundred-and-eighty-five-page illustrated book provides a substantial overview of the development of Virtue's art. It traces his close relationship with locations in Devon, Exeter, London, Italy and Norfolk. The critical text is provided by Paul Moorhouse, Ex TATE and previously, Senior Curator, 20th Century Collections, National Portrait Gallery.

    The gallery has work from all periods of the artist's oeuvre. If you are thinking of buying or selling, please contact us.

  • Works
  • Essay by Paul Moorhouse

    Essay by Paul Moorhouse

    Art historian and curator. From 2005-17, Senior Curator of Twentieth-Century Collections and Head of Displays (Victorian to Contemporary) at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

    John Virtue by Paul Moorhouse, a monograph covering over forty years of John's work, was published in 2019 by ALBION Ridinghouse. Paul Moorhouse has been closely associated with the artist for over twenty years and has written extensively on his work. In this lavishly illustrated book, he discusses the development of Virtue's art from its beginnings and traces the artist's close relationship with locations in Lancashire, Devon, Exeter, London, Italy and Norfolk. As Moorhouse shows, these places have each generated a fresh artistic response, forming distinct episodes in an overarching vision. This is rooted in the landscapes that Virtue observes but also in deeper aspects of experience. For in Virtue's art, the passage of time, mortality, and a will to express the intensity of each lived moment are abiding themes.

    In 1978 John Virtue had been living in Green Haworth, a remote Lancashire village, for seven years. During that time, he had struggled to find a way forward as an artist and had become discouraged by a growing sense of failure. Finally, he decided to destroy all his previous work. This destruction was to prove a liberation. In April that year, he resolved to 'try and become a real artist'. It was a memorable turning point. He decided that the surrounding landscape would form his subject and that in his response to it, there would be no equivocation. Eliminating brushes, colour, paint and canvas - all of which seemed extraneous to the direct means of expression he was seeking - he began again by making small pencil or charcoal drawings during regular walks. These images, he decided, would unfold like a visual diary. With this pledge, Virtue determined the course of his art. It commenced a journey that continues to the present day. 

    During the ensuing four decades, Virtue has forged a distinctive artistic path. Drawings made in the landscape have continued to be the primary source for larger works created in the studio. There, the images preserving his original experiences yield a second phase of imaginative and expressive engagement that goes far beyond each observed motif. Combining walking, drawing, abstraction and radical improvisation, Virtue's dynamic process has produced a body of work that extends the tradition of landscape painting in unprecedented ways. Today, Virtue is widely regarded as one of Britain's leading painters. 
  • John Virtue: London | A Film by Jake Auerbach

    John Virtue: London | A Film by Jake Auerbach

    Artist John Virtue spent twenty years in rural isolation as a landscape painter, first in the North of England and then in Devon. In 2002 he responded to a request from The National Gallery in London and moved to the capital to paint the city itself. The project took over two years to complete; this film follows the artist at work from Greenwich to Trafalgar Square; and includes witnesses such as Lord Rothschild, Frank Auerbach and Charlie Gillett. The result is a unique and intimate portrait of the painter's working life.

    With the kind permission of Jake Auerbach, the first three minutes of this documentary can be seen below. For a nominal sum, the complete film can be streamed here - Jake Auerbach Films.  

    Jake Auerbach is a British filmmaker specialising in documentary subjects. Though his films have ranged across the cultural spectrum, he is best known for his portraits of artists, both contemporary and historical. They include Titian, Allen Jones, Paula Rego, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Kitaj.

    Virtue was chosen as the sixth associate artist at The National Gallery 
    because of his deep-rooted yet contemporary relationship with the great European landscape tradition that is so magnificently represented in the collection. Working in The National Gallery's studio, Virtue made a series of huge paintings depicting the London cityscape looking towards St Paul's and a smaller group showing Trafalgar Square from the roof of the National Gallery. Executed solely in black and white, the monumental, epic works showed London as a subject never before treated by a painter on such an ambitious scale. 2005 culminated in an exhibition, London Paintings,  at The National Gallery.

  • Video

  • Biography



    1971 - moved to Green Haworth, Lancashire 
    1988 - moved to Exeter, Devon
    2004 - moved to London 
    2007 - moved to Italy
    2009 - moved to North Norfolk

    London, Venice and Norfolk Monotypes, Patrick Davies Contemporary Art
    Norfolk Works on Paper, 2011-14, Patrick Davies Contemporary Art


    John Virtue, Small Norfolk Paintings, Patrick Davies Contemporary Art

    John Virtue, New Paintings, Albion Barn, Oxford

    John Virtue, Forty Years, Albion Barn, Oxford

    John Virtue, Albion Barn, Oxford
    John Virtue, New Works, The Hughes Gallery, Sydney
    John Virtue, The Sea, Firstsite Gallery, Colchester

    The Sea, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich - travelling to
    Imperial College Healthcare Charity Collection, Charing Cross Hospital
    Marlborough Fine Art, London
    Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

    Venice Monotypes, Somerset House, London

    London Monotypes, Somerset House, London

    John Virtue, Paintings 1999-2009 (Robert Hiscox Collection), Eton College, Windsor

    New Italian Landscapes, Annandale Galleries, Sydney

    John Virtue, London Venice New Monotypes, Marlborough Fine Art, London

    John Virtue, Major Paintings of London, Annandale Galleries, Sydney

    John Virtue, London Works, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut
    John Virtue, New Small London Paintings, Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

    John Virtue, London Paintings, The National Gallery, London
    John Virtue, London Drawings, Courtauld Gallery, London
    John Virtue, Small London Paintings, Annandale Galleries, Sydney

    Last Paintings of the Exe Estuary, L.A. Louver, Venice, California
    Last Paintings of the Exe Estuary, Annandale Galleries, Sydney

    John Virtue, L.A. Louver, Venice, California

    John Virtue, New Paintings, Tate St. Ives, Cornwall

    John Virtue, Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art, London

    Exe Estuary Paintings, Spacex Gallery, Exeter

    John Virtue, L.A. Louver, Venice, California
    John Virtue, New Paintings, Jason and Rhodes, London

    John Virtue, Etchings, Jason and Rhodes, London

    John Virtue, New Works, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, travelling to Arnolfini, Bristol, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

    Darklands, Terra Nera, Galerie Buchmann, Basel

    John Virtue, L.A. Louver, Venice, California
    The Landscapes, 1991-93, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London

    John Virtue, Louver Gallery, New York

    John Virtue, Serpentine Galley, London
    John Virtue, Gallery Kasahara, Osaka

    Large Works and Miniatures, 1989-90, L.A. Louver, Venice, California

    10 New Works, Lisson Gallery, London, travelling to Louver Gallery, New York

    Green Haworth 10 Years, 1978-88, Lisson Gallery, London, travelling to Cornerhouse, Manchester, and L.A. Louver, Venice, California

    Works, 1985-86, Lisson Gallery, London

    John Virtue, Lisson Gallery, London