Entertainment & Arts

Brian Sewell, art critic, dies aged 84

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Media captionThe BBC's Nick Higham looks at the career of "an insightful, if sometimes harsh critic"

Art critic Brian Sewell has died aged 84, his agent has confirmed.

Sewell was the art critic at the London Evening Standard newspaper for more than 30 years, and was known for his outspoken, often controversial views.

His agent, Francine Fletcher, said Sewell, who had cancer, died at his London home on Saturday.

In a statement, the Evening Standard said Sewell was "irreplaceable" and that while his wit was "always rapier sharp" his kindness "knew no limits".

Read more about Brian Sewell's life here.

The newspaper described him as a "legend in the world of journalism and the arts" who was "irreplaceable" and thought of "more as family than a friend".

"Simply, Brian was the nation's best art critic, best columnist and the most brilliant and sharpest writer in recent times," the statement said.

Critic 'by accident'

Sewell, who was born on 15 July 1931, said it was his mother who imbued his four year old self with a love of art, taking him to the National Gallery.

Brought up in London, he later studied for a degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute, where he was tutored by the art historian Anthony Blunt.

In 1979, Blunt was exposed as "the Fourth Man" in the Burgess-Maclean spy scandal.

Sewell began his career at Christie's auction house in the 1950s and had many artist friends, including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Salvador Dali.

"It was after the Blunt affair - Anthony Blunt - and I had achieved a certain unwanted notoriety and Tina Brown, who was just reviving Tatler, wanted an art critic and thought I might be it," he said.

Although Sewell always denied that he and Blunt were intimate, it was Sewell who helped his mentor flee the press and, in the process, found himself in the media spotlight.

He told the BBC in 2012 that he had become a critic "by accident", but said art was something "that brings people like me to life".

When asked in the same interview how he would describe himself, he replied: "A failure".

"I wanted to write the great book on Michelangelo and I never got anywhere near it and now it is too late," he said.

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Art critic Estelle Lovatt told the BBC that Sewell was a "unique character" who preferred "to keep himself to himself".

"But he was brilliant because he brought art to the masses," she said.

Anne McElvoy, a senior editor for The Economist and an Evening Standard columnist, tweeted: "Sorry to hear of Brian Sewell's death, as one of the Standard execs over decades who had the task of editing his brilliant rudenesses."

Royal editor at the Evening Standard, Robert Jobson, tweeted: "So sad to hear of the death of Brian Sewell. A wonderful writer, art critic & @standardnews colleague. RIP."

The paper's chairman, Evgeny Lebedev, added: "Very sad to hear of Brian Sewell's death. Remarkable critic and man whose erudite, magisterial work for the Standard will never be forgotten."

Fellow critic Charles Darwent described him as "a great friend and a great critic".

BBC arts correspondent Nick Higham said Sewell's work was "unmistakeable", saying he was "passionate, opinionated and controversial".

"His sharp wit could be cruel, but he was a television natural, a hugely readable television columnist, and an insightful - if sometimes harsh - critic," our correspondent added.

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