Brian Sewell | Getty | 15363
Brian Sewell, art dealer, writer and television personality, was born in London on 15 July 1931 and died on 19 September 2015 from cancer. Famed for his voice, which he described as
the voice of an Edwardian lesbian
he became a well known broadcaster and art critic who was not usually impressed with modern art. He was also well known for his fondness of old fashioned words such as “callipygian” and “panjandrum”.
He became art critic on the London Evening Standard in the mid-1990s, his insistence that most contemporary art was rubbish made him a pariah in that powerful part of the art world he dubbed “the Serota tendency”. He was well qualified to comment, having worked first for the Courtauld Institute and then Christies. The ruder and more retardataire Sewell became with his criticism, the more his audience loved him.
He called the first volume of his two-part autobiography “Outsider” which became famous for its recounting of a lurid homosexual past – Sewell confessed to having had “easily a thousand sexual partners in a quinquennium” in his thirties. One day I will look up that word.
In 2014 Sewell wrote in the Daily Telegraph:
At school, 70 years ago, it hardly mattered until we were in the Upper Sixth and authority was thrust on some of us, but National Service would have been impossible had the Army known – and it was while I was in the Army that I was made terrifyingly aware of what could happen were I ever foolish enough to be open about my homosexuality.
His article dismissed the advent of gay marriage.
We have wasted our resources on the wrong campaign – the battle still to be won is against prejudice, the most insidious of enemies.
Charles Darwent notes in the Independent:
Sewell’s mother had had him out of wedlock in 1931, at a time when such things mattered. Worse, in her son’s own snobbish telling, she had then married a middle-class man whose surname Sewell was tricked into taking, and who had sent him to an undistinguished London day school.
Of his criticism:
When Naked Emperors, a collection of his contemporary art reviews, was launched at the Standard in 2012, Charles Saatchi sent a message thanking the critic for “always being so Brian Sewelly”. The Turner Prize-winning potter, Grayson Perry, often the object of Sewell’s vitriol, reviewed the book in a Sunday newspaper: “When he is not writing about my exhibitions,” Perry wrote, good-naturedly, “Mr Sewell can be sweet.”
Gay History notes with sadness the passing of one of the principal gay characters of the 20th and 21st century.