Visiting Fortnum & Mason has always been a special experience. Thanks to new works of art commissioned for the tercentenary, it is now even more magical.
Frances Hamel’s giant paintings of cedar trees
It can be argued that Fortnum & Mason is in itself a work of art, with its iconic clock, chandeliers, limed oak staircases and deep red carpet. It is also a fitting showcase not only for the rare and wonderful items on offer, but for its growing art collection.
Art has always taken its rightful place at Fortnum’s. In the interwar period young British artists, such as Rex Whistler and Allan Walton created designs for the catalogues, and decorated the store with murals and panels. Edward Bawden’s unique style was developed over a 30-year relationship with the company.
When Garfield Weston bought Fortnum’s in 1951, he began a process of beautifying the store with works of art. Forays to the galleries and auction houses of St James’s resulted in a wonderful collection of paintings, mostly by English artists. During the refurbishment of the building, several of the paintings were sold to enable Fortnum’s to invest in new artists.
From the Lower Ground to the Fourth Floor, customers can see old friends, such as Montague Dawson’s superb studies of tea clippers. Wander up the Duke Street staircase to see Renny Tait’s Lighthouse 2007 and Nick Botting’s studies of London river life. The Piccadilly staircase hosts Roger Bissiere’s suite, Décor pour le Bar du Théâatre des Champs Elysées. These paintings have never before been seen together, and we are quietly proud of having reunited them after over half a century.
The largest collection of commissioned works of art is by Oxfordshire artist Francis Hamel. Several of his huge paintings can be found in store. At the Tea Counter on the Ground Floor, grand paintings of cedar trees complement the rare and wonderful teas on sale; the butcher’s counter has seven panels displaying the origins of cuts of meat, and customers are led into the Parlour by a joyous mural of a fairground.
Paint, however, is not the only artistic medium that interests Fortnum & Mason. Theatrical designers have long been involved in the creation of the famous window displays, graphic designers toil to create exquisite miniature works of art on the labels, menus and catalogues, and a piece of music was even commissioned for the Tercentenary celebrations.
Hanging art in the store has a significant effect on the Fortnum’s shopping experience, whereby the arguably prosaic activity of buying tea or preserves is transformed into an aesthetic experience.