Brian Sewell On The Loneliness Of The Art Critic

Posted filed underCriticism, England, Media.


The British art critic talks to Angela Wintle about his childhood, following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and ageing at The Telegraph: “Brian Sewell, 80, has been the art critic of the London Evening Standard since 1984, and is noted for his acerbic views on conceptual art and the Turner Prize. After taking a degree in history of art at the Courtauld Institute under Anthony Blunt, he later joined Christie’s as an expert in Old Master paintings before becoming a consultant to museums and galleries. He is a prolific broadcaster, with credits including The Naked Pilgrim: The Road to Santiago and The Grand Tour for Channel 5, and Dirty Dalí: A Private View for Channel 4. His autobiography, Outsider, Always Almost: Never Quite, is out in paperback on June 28. He lives in London.

Routine: I rise at 7am and let my three dogs, Winckelmann, Lottie and Gretel, into the garden before preparing coffee, because I can’t function without it. After breakfasting on muesli, I begin writing – in my dressing gown, because I can get going faster. During the night I wake constantly and wonderful sentences come into my head. They are still bubbling over the next morning, so I scribble them down in my unshaven, unwashed state, anxious to preserve them. I’m sure I was a dog in a previous existence because everything has to be as it always is – the right pen, the right paper, in the right place – otherwise I can’t do it. I write every day, but by 5pm I’ve had it. Besides, by then, the dogs have to be entertained.

Ill health I’ve lived in Wimbledon for 14 years in a dilapidated mess of a house. I was stricken with heart damage after a couple of heart attacks in 1994 and 1995, and could not climb the stairs – the house’s large footprint enables me to live on the ground floor. Since living here, I’ve had to be rescued three times. If there hadn’t been somebody living over the garage, I wouldn’t have survived.

Childhood : I am illegitimate – the child of a one-parent family. My mother, a Roman Catholic, refused my father’s instruction to abort me and educated me as best she could, despite being as poor as a church mouse. I did not miss my father and was not curious until, when I was 10, my mother married my stepfather and they attempted to convince me that he was my true father. Decades later, I discovered my real father was Philip Heseltine, better known as Peter Warlock, a minor composer. My mother had been one of his several mistresses. They had a blazing row over the abortion issue and within days he committed suicide. She bore the guilt for the rest of her life.

Discovering art
:As a child, there was not a major museum or art gallery in London I didn’t know, and the National Gallery was my favourite. My mother and I went on Connoisseurs’ Day, when an admission charge of sixpence was imposed to deter the hoi-polloi. She would say, ‘I want you to find a picture that you like and then we’ll look at it together – and you will tell me why you like it.’ It was a simple but effective ruse to make me look and think. ”

Read on at The Telegraph.