Cross Swords With Brian Sewell? No, Thank You!

Today I received an interesting invitation via Twitter. “Wld u like to comment for ES in defence/Grayson Perry re Sewell piece?” The message was from Josh Neicho who is the Letters Editor of the Evening Standard. There was a link to an Evening Standard review of the current Royal Academy Summer Exhibition by the art critic Brian Sewell. Neicho presumably found my Twitter address as a result of my post about Grayson Perry’s tapestries.

Sewell’s review was scathing to say the least!

“In the Academy’s magazine, Norman Ackroyd, the co-ordinator (whatever that may mean) and hangman of the exhibition, asserts that a lot of the work submitted “was very challenging, powerful and strong”, but if that is so, then challenge, power and strength were the selectors’ criteria for rejection, for nothing with these characteristics is to be found on the walls.”


“[Humphrey Ocean] is also of the opinion that “the Summer Exhibition throws its spectators right in at the deep end”. Really? Surely it has no deep end but is entirely shallow, with a soft muddy bottom to mire the unfortunate wader.”

I’ve always liked Sewell prose, if not his arrogant attitude on occasion. However, the thought of crossing swords with someone who describes the light of London as “glaucous” (it means ‘of a pale greyish or bluish green’ – I had to look it up!) does not fill me with glee. The main reason I declined the invitation, though, was simply that I had not seen the tapestries unlike Sewell so didn’t feel able to make a judgement.


So what did Mr Sewell think of Grayson’s work?

“In the past I have occasionally discussed the 10 best exhibits and ignored the other 1,200 or so; this year, as there are no best, I thought to choose the 10 worst, but in so universally dismal a gathering, even that has proved impossible and I have only three to offer, all in their own ways so ghastly that I must award them Equal First. They are Lorry Art, by Rose Wylie, a daub worthy of a child of four; Sudden Rain in Mombasa, by Mohammed Abdullah Ariba Khan, who has the impertinence to ask £1,400 for a seascape (in an ornate sham gold frame) of the kind to be expected in a Margate B&B; and The Vanity of Small Differences, Perry’s six tapestries in hideous homage to Hogarth, visually raucous and machine-made offences to all for whom the word tapestry conjures the glories of Mortlake and Brussels.”

So he didn’t like them then. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing them when the Management and I head down to London in early August to see the exhibition.


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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12 Responses to Cross Swords With Brian Sewell? No, Thank You!

  1. Nancy Farmer says:

    He he 🙂 no, I don’t blame you, not a challenge I’d take on, either!

  2. seascapesaus says:

    How wonderful to be asked! But yes, I applaud your decision, whatever the reason. Perhaps that is a person who needs a break from his work! His choice of language is entertaining I guess.

    • I don’t think Sewell would have used the sentence “People seem to be curating their possessions to communicate consciously, or more often unconsciously, where they want to fit into society.” as Perry did. I suspect Sewell realises that, while we may do things ‘subconsciously’, it is very difficult to do anything when we are unconscious.

  3. Red Hen says:

    What a withering review. Yes, he writes wonderfully but is he right? It will be interesting to see what you think when you`ve a chance to visit the exhibition.

  4. Nancy Farmer says:

    Interesting breed, art critics. They spend their finest moments of creativity taking down other people, which can be entertaining, but I’m not sure it is entirely nice …or indeed very useful.
    Though I must admit I have been appalled at some of the RA’s choices in the past. Will have to try to get to this one…

  5. May I refer my honourable friend to my previous answer – ( – when Mr Ambroise Brierce stated that ‘Painting was the art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic’.

  6. Critics pffftttt. They talk the talk, we walk the walk.

  7. Pingback: London 2 – The Royal Academy | notes to the milkman

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