Brian Sewell

(b. 1931)

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(1931– )

British art critic. His father committed suicide before he was born, and his mother, a painter and musician, brought him up with stifling possessiveness. After studying history of art at the Courtauld Institute, he worked at Christie's auction house, 1958–66, then briefly set up as a dealer on his own. He became famous overnight in 1979 when he acted as spokesman for his friend and former teacher Anthony Blunt, who had been sensationally exposed as a wartime Soviet spy. With his extraordinarily plummy voice, Sewell fitted to perfection the public image of an upper-class aesthete, and after the Blunt scandal died down he continued to be a familiar media figure. In 1984 he became art critic of the London Evening Standard, and soon made a controversial reputation with uncompromising attacks on work that he regarded as worthless or pretentious (which included the products of several highly regarded contemporary artists). On 5 January 1994 the Standard published a letter signed by thirty-five of his opponents, accusing him of a ‘dire mix of sexual and class hypocrisy, intellectual posturing and artistic prejudice’. The signatories included John Golding, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Rachel Whiteread. Later in the year, however, Sewell showed that he had strong support when he achieved the rare distinction of becoming ‘critic of the year’ in the British Press Awards for the second time (the first was in 1989). A collection of his writings, The Reviews that Caused the Rumpus, was published in 1994 (revised edn, entitled An Alphabet of Villains, 1995). Edward Lucie-Smith, one of the fellow-critics with whom he has crossed swords, describes him as ‘a mixture of Lady Bracknell and the mannerisms of an offended llama’.

Subjects: Art.

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