The passing of Brian Sewell
Brian Sewell who died on the 19th of September 2015 was a very fascinating and interesting man. I first made an acquaintance with his views and writings in the 1990s when he was the art critic on the London Evening Standard.
He along with Victor Lewis-Smith who then wrote for the Time Out magazine as the television critic under the by-line ‘Rebel without a corset’ had an interesting use of phraseology and delivery that I could not overlook.
On television, he had an utterly patrician persona, his accent was once described as sounding posher than the Queen’s and I remember him appearing at a Chelsea Flower Show and reviewing a garden exhibit that he termed, ‘Utterly, utterly loathsome’.
Back to his writings
Yet for his sometimes acerbic and contemning wit, I always found him endearing, knowledgeable and dare I say, funny in a way that required an ear and an understanding that always put me on a learning path.
Earlier this year, I found myself reading the following books one after the other, Jeremy Hutchinson's Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley's Lover to Howard Marks, Closet Queens, Outsider: Always Almost: Never Quite, The Orwell Essays and currently, Against The Law: The Classic Account of a Homosexual in 1950s Britain.
The first two books along with a third which was children’s book written by Brian Sewell as he recuperated from surgery in a hospital earlier this year, seemed to have a common theme of injustices suffered by some persecuted by pernicious laws against pornography, obscenity, blasphemy and homosexuality up the first three-quarters of the 20th Century.
History in the stories
These again for me contained elements of recent history that were necessary for me to understand how far British society had come with the emancipation of human rights culmination of the legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Outsider: Always Almost: Never Quite was Brian Sewell’s first part of a two-part autobiography which I read on my Samsung tablet using the Amazon Kindle app, it was revelatory as well as educational, the Kindle app allowed me to annotate words and phrases that I needed to learn the exact meanings of even if the contexts of their usage was helpful enough.
Mr Sewell had a penchant for the use of the obscure and archaic which also displayed a great erudition and the depth of expression of English that we so miss nowadays pandering to the lowest common dominator to communicate.
Of a persecuted sexuality
I will eventually get to read the second volume of his biography, but in the meanwhile, reading the articles that won him the 2003 Orwell Prize meant I downloaded the complete anthology of George Orwell’s books for my reading pleasure.
Brian Sewell was homosexual and there was some graphic detail of his sexual exploits after some years of asceticism and abstinence, he would have been a witness of the events of the Montagu Case which set off the campaign for relaxing the laws against homosexuality just around the time that Alan Turing sadly committed suicide.
Peter Wildeblood one of the defendants in the Montagu Case gave a very personal account of his persecution and prosecution in his book Against The Law: The Classic Account of a Homosexual in 1950s Britain.
There probably not much else I can write about Brian Sewell that has not yet been written in tribute to him, but with his passing is sadly the loss of a kind of English expression championed by writers like George Orwell before and might presently be seen in Will Self, flashes of engaging prose written with rich philosophical and historical insight and analogy, much to educate the inquisitive mind beyond story and fact.
A uniquely different man
That Brian Sewell was not much honoured in his lifetime might be due to the fact that his was as non-conformist as they come, yet loyal to all his friends even when the friends became a pariah as how he stood by Anthony Blunt, men of such principled stance and integrity are few to come by today.
In all, I had to acknowledge Brian Sewell and may his gentle soul rest in peace. If he ever gets the chance to be an art critic in heaven, I hope whoever designed the place did a good job to earn a modicum of rare praise.