In The Frame
In The Frame
In The Frame

Archive reveals Sewell and MacGregor spat

by The Art Newspaper  |  15 June 2017
Archive reveals Sewell and MacGregor spat
The late art critic Brian Sewell’s “pitiless review” of a National Gallery show drew a personal response. Photo: PA/PA Archive/PA Images
A spat between the late Brian Sewell and Neil MacGregor is revealed in a letter in the Sewell archive, which has just been acquired by the Paul Mellon Centre in London. Sewell had published a review in Tatler of Bodylines—an exhibition staged at the National Gallery in 1987, when MacGregor was director—complaining that the catalogue was “ill-written, ungrammatical, ill-considered”. He was “almost inclined to say that no one should go to the exhibition, for once again the gallery has… tossed a grand expansive subject to children too ignorant and inexperienced to handle it”. MacGregor wrote to Sewell: “I have just read your pitiless review and feel you deserve a very sharp slap on the wrist. Did I not know you better I might suggest it was unethical to urge people to stay away from an exhibition you had not yet seen.” MacGregor jokingly suggested that Sewell should repent by visiting Trafalgar Square “in a white shift and clutching a candle”, before signing off with a handwritten “Really!” The letter is included in a small display of the Sewell archive at the Paul Mellon Centre (until 8 September).

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