A fail-safe route into the combative life of the art critic Brian Sewell (1931–2015) is by way of extended quotation. Here he is on the very first page of his voluminous memoirs, recently published in a single edition by Quartet, writing about the woman who brought him up:

My earliest recollection of my mother is of my looking down on her and recognising fear. I have no memory of looking up at her, or seeing the bodyless head in which analysts who bother themselves with the earliest artistic impulses of the child would have us believe, the great smiling face of the adult looming over the cradle or the pram, but looking down from the not inconsiderable height of an overhanging branch has stayed with me all my life, not because of the adventure of climbing there—that I remember not at all—but for the startling clarity of a powerful emotion that I had never seen...

 

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