Sewell's art collection to be sold

June 16 2016

Image of Sewell's art collection to be sold

Picture: Christie's

I've been meaning to note that the late Brian Sewell's art collection will be sold at Christie's later this year, in September. The catalogue is not yet published, but Christie's press release says there'll be some 200 lots, including the above Matthias Stomer, estimated at £400,000-£600,000.

Update - discussing the sale in The Guardian, Jonathan Jones says that art critics shouldn't buy art:

I wouldn’t collect, even if I had the money. I think it is morally dubious for art critics to be collectors. But if I did I would only buy art that dates from before 1800. Make of that what you will.

Update II - a reader writes:

On the matter of ethics and art critics, a couple of things strike me. The first is that I'm immediately reminded of the tale of Henry Geldzahler barging his way into Robert Hughes' New York flat back in the earlier days of Hughes's US tenure and demanding to view Hughes' art collection, before declaring, upon being informed that there wasn't a collection to view, "Well then! Somebody in here is certainly going to die poor!" The second is that I think, and have thought for some while, that there's a book to be written on the ethics of both art critics and public art institutions in the post-war to the contemporary periods - though it will take somebody with nerves of steel to write it. I get the impression that a lot of what goes on makes Sewell's collection look like pretty small beer, if that.

I found Jones' musings on what the 20th century works in Sewell's collection tells us about his critical judgements interesting, though perhaps not particularly enlightening. Fow what it's worth, I think Sewell is fair game on this front - I remember him writing of his enjoyment of the Kenneth Clark exhibition at the Tate owing to the fact that he thought it vindicated his view that Clark was a terrible phony with iffy taste. And it would be foolish to argue that a collection is in no way an expression of the likings and tastes of the collector. But beyond that, I think it's all a bit of a stretch. Apart from the fact - which Jones concedes - that the top rank artists of the 20th Century were almost certainly beyond Sewell's pocket, I don't think it necessarily follows that collectors invariably collect what they consider, in purely analytical terms, to be "great" art. I see no reason why this should not apply to critics as much as the next person. There are surely many reasons why one can be drawn to art and they range far beyond appreciation for technical or innovative aspects. I enjoy the work of Laura Knight (some of it...). I would be very happy to live with her work and to see it every day. I came away from the recent major Laura Knight exhibition absolutely convinced that her reputation was being oversold and that she was by no measure an artist of the first-rank - even by the standards of British art of the first half of the 20th century. But so what? I'm not convinced that these two instincts are mutually exclusive. I very much like the work of Thomas Hart Benton. I'd collect it if I could afford it. I would not, were somebody mad enough to pay me to write on the subject, argue for a moment that Benton was one of the great artists of the 20th Century. I appreciate his work because it evokes, powerfully and quite poignantly, a particular time and place  in history (See also: Grant Wood etc). This appeals to my historical interests. It's a question of art as artefact. I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of Sewell's acquisitions were made with a similar outlook. The irony is that Jones has written himself (with regard to Lowry) that "art is a witness to history... The trouble is, the art world – that silly term says it all, as if art were another world – lacks a vocabulary to praise art for its historical and human significance. Art has to be praised as art, and artists glamorised as geniuses."

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.