Project Five – Research Point: Townscapes

John Virtue (b. 1947) – during his years as associate artist in residence of the National Gallery, he made a significant amount of works, some of them at very large scale. (see also my earlier research on his usage of material tone and scale)

One further example of the large series of landscapes (actually a combination of land- and townscapes) is:

Comparing with ‘Landscape Np 662‘, 2003:

John Virtue - 'Landscape No 662', 2003 and 'Landscape no 664', 2003

John Virtue – ‘Landscape No 662’, 2003 and ‘Landscape no 664’, 2003

In this square format monochrome work Virtue works out the main contrasting areas in bold strokes with acryl paint on a first ink primed surface (my assumption) followed my subsequent layers of black marks. This tonal work as most of his other works conveys a mystic heavily atmospheric impression where the receding buildings play a secondary role. Virtue takes reminiscence to Turner’s landscape and the desire to convey more than just a pictorial image of what can be seen. I like the way how with a few simple strokes he creates a believable image of perspective.

Another artist who depicted ‘cityscapes’ is Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993). He is well known for his larger works of ‘Ocean Park’ and a major artist of the post war american abstract expressionism.

In one of Diebenkorn’s earlier works  ‘Cityscape No I‘ he created a quite sharp downwards viewpoint: the buildings are staggered and the form nearly disappeared into single color swaps. A quite painterly approach to the theme with bold interplay of shadow and light and color. Overall, Diebenkorn’s cityscapes have a rather solitude appeal. As in many other contemporary works people or other living creatures are omitted.

I find another work quite interesting in respect of used medium and perspective.

  • View from Studio‘, 1974
    Charcoal, gouache, and ink on paper (42.9 x 35.2 cm)
    Santa Cruz Island Foundation. In: Livingston (1974), p. 201
Richard Diebenkorn - 'Cityscape no.I', 1963 and 'View from Studio', 1974

Richard Diebenkorn – ‘Cityscape no.I’, 1963 and ‘View from Studio’, 1974

It is a smaller scale work (43.2 x 35.x cm) in charcoal, ink and gouache on paper and done as the title reveals from his studio looking through the window.  I like the way he used the media (charcoal, ink, and gouache) as I feel that I can learn more from it. This work for me is somewhat between a drawing (with more focus on mark making) and painting (with more focus on colour relationship). I think with this work Diebenkorn combines the more representional depicting of the buildings with a more abstract application of colour swaps. The latter is one of the key feature of his later ‘Ocean Park’ works. Another quite interesting feature of this work is how he drew the upper left edge and his makings at the lower half or the picture. On the one hand it seems as the view out of the window is more like a picture on a wall, than there is the strange angle above. Not quite clear what this means actually, perhaps giving the illusion of an open window?

I wanted to look at another work of the british artist Peter Doig (b.1959) whom I already contextualized during my earlier research on landscape in series.

Peter Doig - 'Concrete Cabin II', 1992-1996

Peter Doig – ‘Concrete Cabin II’, 1992-1996

In this serie Doig depicts Le Corbusier’s modernist apartment building from 1956 in Briey (France). The image is cropped without frame of a sky or ground. The building with the color patches is hidden behind the wild group of trees and rather abstract marks In the centre there are a few white spots on the trees (highlight from the sun?)

Doig also did later also some paintings form the interior (1999) of that building conveying the decay and its marks on the concrete walls and ceilings. Overall it is the passing of time (passing of the modernism time). So quite a contemporary view as some works of George Shaw.

Another artist in this context is Kate Downie (b. 1958) who I did researched on her approach of working on location.


  • I take away for my own work:
    – Working in combinations charcoal and paint (gouache)
    – Working tonal in black and white to convey a certain atmosphere from the location
    – Working in abstract patterns in color areas (trees, surrounding landscape, frame e.g. window)
    – Working in geometrical simple shapes


  • Livingston, Jane (1997) ‘The Art of Richard Diebenkorn‘. Berkeley: University of California Press
  • Searle, A.; Scott. K.; Grenier, C.(2007) ‘Peter Doig’.  London: Phaidon Press

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