Brian Sewell, art critic, author, columnist and Courtauld alumnus died aged 84 on 19 September 2015. Best known to the British public as arts broadcaster and art critic of the London Evening Standard, he drew readers who might otherwise have had little interest in the arts to consider both art works and artists whom they little knew. At the same time he challenged commonplace assumptions about ‘great’ artists, forcing everyone interested to look again more closely at their works.
Brian took his BA at The Courtauld between 1955 and 1958 – a star pupil who attracted the interest of The Courtauld’s legendary director Sir Anthony Blunt, whose exposure as the fourth man in 1979 would ironically launch Brian into the public limelight. After The Courtauld, Brian worked for Christie’s until 1966 when he resigned to become a freelance advisor and dealer, only later becoming the art critic of Tatler and then the Evening Standard.
A fluent, articulate and frequently harsh writer, Brian has been described as “sincerely outrageous”. He rarely approved of contemporary art, dismissed much of modernism and in his autobiography considered the great days of The Courtauld to be well over. His often extreme and frequently excessively damning criticisms however were matched by passages of scintillating writing which will continue to inspire.
However, Brian’s extreme signature accent and his acerbic and pretentious exterior hid a man who remained vulnerable and was never at ease with himself, but who genuinely wanted to share his love for great works of arts. Professor Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld Institute of Art, said “Brian was a passionate champion for the history of art and through his writings and exhibition reviews, encouraged and challenged readers to look again at the art of earlier periods. A complex, but extremely talented figure, his death marks the end of a particular era. “