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Brian Sewell - "A lone wolf, prone to bite."

I am very sad indeed to hear of Brian Sewell's passing today.

During a conversation several weeks ago, Brian had told me - quite matter of factly - that his condition had become terminal. Whilst I struggled to say the correct thing (correctly) Brian said, "oh well, mustn't grumble." It was this stoicism that I found most remarkable about him in recent years, a period when he had a seemingly endless number of health conditions that took so much out of him but, more tragically for him, kept him from writing reviews and visiting exhibitions.

I first encountered Brian almost twenty five years ago when I asked him to review an exhibition at Leighton House. Brian wrote back (he never, ever took to email or even computers) and said "I am a lone wolf, prone to bite", which was his way of saying "be careful what you wish for". It was an invaluable lesson in PR; don't believe your own bullshit and never expect everybody to feel the same way about something that you do.

Over the next twenty years I must have spent hundreds of hours listening to him talk on a plethora of subjects, but in my experience, it was opera and cars that got him more animated than anything, even art. Perhaps that is because I never really " discussed" art with him. I asked him about it and listened. I once mentioned that I had seen the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo that resides in a church in Bruges; "Goodness, one wonders why anyone bothered after that," was his reply. And that is all I needed to hear.

His critical career is one of legend now of course, and his thorough connoisseurship and lavish writing style would come to upset and inspire people in equal measure. His opinions were not always agreeable to most, including me, but his way of arguing meant that I would often find myself agreeing, even when I didn't!

He could be very, very funny on virtually any subject, but humour wasn't something he was necessarily associated with. He was also a man of great compassion and generosity and would vanish from your side during a walk along the street as he rushed across the road to put twenty pounds into the hand of a homeless person.

I valued our friendship enormously - it was, I suppose, a very unlikely union. He taught me a great deal about so many subjects and I will miss our long conversations.

RIP Brian.


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