Naim Attallah’s interview with Brian Sewell, the art collector

Brian Sewell’s death last year at the age of 84, although not unexpected, was a sad event for most of his admirers and particularly to his few friends who knew him well and had the privilege of seeing his sentimental side at close quarters.

Brian Sewell

In 2000, Naim Attallah, Chairman of Quartet Books, had the privileged to interview Brian Sewell for his book Dialogues. Sewell garnered his tremendous knowledge of art from studying at the Courtauld but was apparently frustrated in his ambitions to become a painter. In the ’50s and ’60s he worked at Christies where his own art collection, valued at 2 million pounds, will be sold. His former colleague Noel Annesley, now the auction house’s honorary chairman, said the range of works would surprise people who assumed Sewell, famous for his scathing opinions of modern art, had rather narrow tastes.

‘Brian could be quite brutal in his assessment but he also had a kindly and appreciative side that would be expressed in his collecting patterns as well,’ said Mr Annesley. ‘I was certainly surprised by the sheer volume of the collection. Perhaps the emphasis on modern British or twentieth century British art is heavier than expected, but on the other hand Brian himself tried quite hard to be a painter and never quite gave up on it and you can see he would be fascinated by what his contemporaries and immediate predecessors were up to.’

The sale, called Brian Sewell: Critic and Collector, is being held next month and includes three works by 17th century Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, valued at about £1 million all together. Sewell’s twentieth century collection includes a nude by the Bloomsbury Group’s Duncan Grant, valued between 20 and 30 thousand pounds, and a 1946 portrait of Lucian Freud by his friend John Craxton worth £30,000.

Experts preparing the sale have managed to identify some of the artists behind the works for the first time, confirming the eye for art that made Sewell such an authority. One work, previously identified as being a follower of Michelangelo, has been attributed to the 16th century Italian painter Daniele da Volterra, valued at £150,000. Mr Annesley said: ‘People will be fascinated by the chance of owning something Brian liked, because people read what he said.’

For the last five years of his life Quartet became the proud publisher of his books, which include:
Naim Attallah’s full blog here.