Brian Sewell: Wikis


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Brian Sewell (born 15 July 1931[1]) is a British art critic, motoring expert and media personality. He writes for the London Evening Standard and is noted for artistic conservatism and his acerbic view of the Turner Prize and conceptual art.

A noted wit, Sewell has been described as "Britain's most famous and controversial art critic".[2]


Early life

Sewell was born and brought up in Kensington, London, and educated at the independent Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School (to which he has referred disparagingly as "bloody fucking Haberdashers'"),[1] and then Courtauld Institute of Art, where he was tutored by Anthony Blunt and became his close friend. Sewell graduated in 1957 and worked at Christie's auction house, specialising in Old Master paintings and drawings. After leaving Christie's he became an art dealer. He did his National Service in the Royal Army Service Corps, in which he was commissioned. He has since been a regular commentator on the ITV series Bad Lad's Army, offering insight into 1950s military life.

Art criticism

In 1984 he became art critic of the Evening Standard (replacing avant-garde critic Richard Cork). He won press awards including Critic of the Year in 1988, Arts Journalist of the Year in 1994, the Hawthornden Prize for Art Criticism in 1995 and the Foreign Press Award (Arts) in 2000. In April 2003 he was awarded "The George Orwell" prize for his political/current affairs column in the Evening Standard. In criticisms of the Tate Gallery's art, he coined the phrase, the "Serota Tendency", after its director Nicholas Serota. It was not until the late 1990s that he became a household figure through television, though he was on BBC Radio 4 before then.

Sewell is noted for formal, old-fashioned diction and anti-populist sentiments. He offended people in Gateshead by claiming an exhibition was too important to be held only at the town's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and should be shown to "more sophisticated" audiences in London; he has also disparaged Liverpool as a cultural city.

Sewell's attitude to female artists has been controversial. In July 2008 he was quoted in The Independent as saying:

"The art market is not sexist. The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it's something to do with bearing children."[3]

Sewell's extensive vocabulary and verbose reviews are parodied in the 'Brian Sewell Does Pop Culture!' feature in The Tart webzine. Each week Sewell reviews a popular culture artefact, from television, film or pop music.[4][5]

Sewell does not hold his tongue regarding his opinions, and has frequently insulted the general public for their views on art. Consequently, he is more known for controversy than art criticism among many. He has issued quotes such as the following regarding public praise for the work of Banksy in Bristol:

"The public doesn't know good from bad. For this city to be guided by the opinion of people who don't know anything about art is lunacy. It doesn't matter if they [the public] like it."[6]

He went on to assert that Banksy himself "should have been put down at birth."[6] Clive Anderson has described him as "a man intent on keeping his Christmas card list nice and short."[7]


In 2003, Sewell made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, as a documentary called The Naked Pilgrim, produced by Wag TV for Channel 5. Although he has not practised for decades, Sewell considers himself a Roman Catholic, prompting an emotional response to the faith of pilgrims at Lourdes. The series attracted large audiences and won the Sandford St. Martin Trust award for Best Religious Programme.[8] Following The Naked Pilgrim Sewell presented on two more series for Channel 5: Brian Sewell's Phantoms & Shadows: 100 Years of Rolls-Royce in 2004 and Brian Sewell's Grand Tour, 2006. Sewell also appeared as a guest film reviewer on Channel 5's Movie Lounge, where he frequently savaged films.

In Dirty Dalí: A Private View on Channel 4 on 3 June 2007, Sewell described his acquaintance with Salvador Dalí in the late 1960s, which included lying in the foetal position without trousers in the armpit of a figure of Christ and masturbating for Dalí, who pretended to take photos while fumbling in his trousers.[9][10]

Sewell has appeared twice as panellist on the BBC's news quiz Have I Got News For You? and tried to teach cricketer Phil Tufnell about art in ITV's Don't Call Me Stupid.

He acted as Big Brother during 2008's Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack.[11]

He was the voice of Sir Kiftsgate in an episode of the children's cartoon The Big Knights.

Sewell has a show on Voom HD Network's Art Channel: Gallery HD called Brian Sewell's Grand Tour, in which he tours beautiful cities (primarily in Italy) visiting museums, towns, churches, historic sights, public squares, monuments, profound architectural spots and meeting a local to discuss culture and art. Sewell reflects the 18th century, giving the perspective of what it would have been like as a 'Grand Tourist'. Then he elaborates on what has become of these sights and lost throughout history.

In a 2009 BBC documentary about the so-called North-South Divide, presented by ex-Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Sewell caused controversy by declaring that the solution to the divide was to send a pox or a plague upon the North so they can all just die quietly.[12] [13] [14]

Television credits

Year Programme Role Broadcaster
2007 Dirty Dalì: A Private View Art critic Channel 4
2006 Timeshift: The Da Vinci Code: The Greatest Story Ever Sold Art critic BBC
2006 Movie Lounge Film critic Channel 5
2006 Brian Sewell's Grand Tour (10 episodes) Presenter Channel 5
2004 Brian Sewell's Phantoms & Shadows: 100 Years of Rolls-Royce Presenter Channel 5
2003 The Naked Pilgrim (6 episodes) Presenter Channel 5
1996 The Works: Minette Walters and the Missing Masterpiece Art historian BBC

Other activities

Sewell is a museum adviser in South Africa, Germany and the United States. He is also patron of the British charity NORM-UK which raises awareness of circumcision and other forms of surgical alteration of the genitals. From August 2006, Sewell has provided the tongue-in-cheek voice-over for television advertisements for Apetina brand Feta cheese, the "conceit" being that the salads on which the cheese is used are works of art.

Brian Sewell is also a noted aficionado of classic automobiles, a fan of stock car racing and over several decades has written extensively about cars, classic and contemporary, in the Evening Standard and elsewhere. In both his TV series, on the pilgrimage to Santiago and the Grand Tour (supra), he drove his venerable Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC coupe.

Personal life

In a television programme broadcast on Channel 4 on 24 July 2007,[15] marking the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which partially decriminalised homosexuality in Britain, Sewell said, "I never came out... but I have slowly emerged".[16] He has 'describe[d] the homosexual condition as an "affliction" and a "disability" and [told] readers, "no homosexual has ever chosen this sexual compulsion"'. He has been perceived by some commentators as 'violently homophobic'.[1] In the first episode of the The Naked Pilgrim Sewell alluded to the loss of his virginity at the hands of a 60 year old French woman "who knew what she was doing and was determined."; Sewell was 20 at the time.

In an interview for That's Mad website, Sewell revealed that he suffers from depression, and as a cure usually just sleeps for a long time during the more severe phases.[17]

John Humphrys, in his book Lost for Words, writes "They (people who deliberately speak 'poshly') try to speak like the Queen or even Brian Sewell, the only man I have ever met who makes the Queen sound common."

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c A Life In Full: Nothing if not critical, by Andrew Barrow, The Independent on Sunday, 28 September 2003
  2. ^ Cooke, Rachel. "We pee on things and call it art". Guardian, 13 November 2005. Retrieved on 30 November 2008.
  3. ^ "There's never been a great woman artist", The Independent - Sunday 6 July 2008.
  4. ^ Morgan, James (2008-10-29). "Brian Sewell Does Pop Culture! This week: Deal or No Deal". The Tart. Retrieved 2008-10-31.  
  5. ^ Romano, Lauren (2009-02-01). "Brian Sewell Does Pop Culture! This week: Skins". The Tart. Retrieved 2009-02-09.  
  6. ^ a b The Guardian - August 31 2009
  7. ^ The Funny Side Of TV Experts, BBC Two, Thursday 3rd September 2009
  8. ^ Five's Naked Pilgrim wins Award. Channel 5 Broadcasting, 10 May 2004. Retrieved on 29 November, 2008.
  9. ^ Whitelaw, Paul (2007-06-04). "Dali's surreal world of orgies and onanism". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2007-07-19.  
  10. ^ Sewell, Brian (2007-06-04). "The Dali I knew". Retrieved 2007-07-19.  
  11. ^ Kilkelly, Daniel "Big Brother's Celebrity Hijackers revealed",, 22 December 2007. Retrieved 24 December 2007
  12. ^ Damien Thompson (2009-10-14). "The North is not as poor as John Prescott's film about the North-South Divide - TV review". Daily Telegraph.  
  13. ^ "TV Review: Prescott: The North South Divide". The Scotsman. 2009-10-15.  
  14. ^ "IT'S GRIM UP NORTH". The Daily Mirror. 2009-10-14.  
  15. ^ "40 Years On". Channel 4. 2007-07-24. Retrieved 2008-01-26.  
  16. ^ Graham, Alison. "How Gay Sex Changed the World". Radio Times. Retrieved 2007-07-19.  
  17. ^ That's Mad: Is Brian Sewell the Best Thing on Television?

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