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A road-trip from England to Italy


My second stint at The Courtauld
Brian Sewell Writer
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So back I went to The Courtauld, feeling much older and stronger and more able and more experienced, and I had, as it were, improved my small command of French and German while I was in the army, and so reading books in foreign languages was much less of a trial in the second stint.

The second stint was infinitely more rewarding. There was a girl called Jill Rigden. We were 12. One of the 12 was Jill Rigden, and she had been brought up in Persia. Her father was employed by the Anglo-Iranian oil company, and she’d been there through part of the war and so on. And she, like me, had floundered a bit on leaving school. She had wanted to be an artist and had wasted time going to an art school and so on, and had eventually concluded that she wasn’t remotely interested in painting and design and all the rest of it, but wanted to be an art historian. So she came at the same age as me to do… and we fitted together very well. We were a bloody-minded pair, because we knew what we wanted. The 12 was reduced to six at the end of the first year, so it was tough going. And six of them dropped out. So it then became incredibly intense, because your had all these tutors and professors who were there to teach you, but your class was reduced, sometimes to… you were the only one.

So everything you did was face-to-face. It wasn’t… you know, it was extraordinary, because I would never have survived it if I’d gone straight from school into that particular year, because it was incredibly intense and demanding. And at certain stages, I was having to produce an essay a week, as well as go to tutorials and early lectures and all the rest of it. And my work now, as an art critic, is for me exactly like being a Courtauld student again, because I produce an essay a week. I am forced to think about what I think I already know, or I am forced to find out what I think about something that I don’t know, which is very much what a Courtauld student was doing, except that I have no professor, no tutors to look after me. And I look at my reading public as my examiners. So I write for that public, and in the end, I am… the last 30 years of my life, I have been a permanent student. And it’s been wonderful.

Born in England, Brian Sewell (1931-2015) was considered to be one of Britain’s most prominent and outspoken art critics. He was educated at the Courtauld Institute of Art and subsequently became an art critic for the London Evening Standard; he received numerous awards for his work in journalism. Sewell also presented several television documentaries, including an arts travelogue called The Naked Pilgrim in 2003. He talked candidly about the prejudice he endured because of his sexuality.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: The Courtauld Institute of Art, Jill Spencer Rigden, Jill Spencer Allibone

Duration: 3 minutes, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2013

Date story went live: 04 July 2013