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The Brian Sewell Archive - "Britain's most famous and controversial art critic"

  • 31 May 2017

For London History Day today we have been highlighting some of the items featured in our current display The Brian Sewell Archive: An Introduction. London History Day includes forty of the city's museums and galleries staging special events and displays for one day only, our display will be open today from 10am - 5pm.

Letter from Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, 13 February 2008

Letter from Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, 13 Feb 2008

Letter from Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, 13 Feb 2008,

Sewell earned his living from journalism for the last thirty-five years of his life and was hugely successful in the role, by the time he died, he was widely known as "Britain's most famous and controversial art critic". The archive contains a back catalogue of his articles arranged alphabetically by subject into files that usually contain one typed copy of his article; as well as one published copy of the article and research notes as well as any correspondence relating to the piece. This near complete run of articles authored by Sewell presents an incredibly valuable resource for anyone studying the cultural landscapes, tastes, and preferences, particularly of London, during this period. One of the most exciting things about the archive is that it reveals the private side of his occupation and over the years he corresponded and built friendships with an enormous and diverse group of individuals. In the above letter from Nicholas Penny, shortly after he took up Directorship at the National Gallery in 2008, it is shown that he solicits Sewell's opinions. In this letter, Penny writes, "you keep a keen eye on the national collection so I am always interested in your views". Sewell took his influence seriously, sponsoring and nurturing those he thought had talent, supporting projects and ventures he thought worthwhile.

Text adapted and taken from the accompanying booklet to The Brian Sewell Archive: An Introduction display, free to visit from 8 May - 8 September and open as part of London History Day on Wednesday 31 May.

Futher reading:
The Brian Sewell Archive: "Brian and Mammy"
The Brian Sewell Archive: The "Blunt Affair"