The illegitimate son of the composer Peter Warlock, who died seven months before he was born, Sewell was brought up in Kensington, London, and was educated at the independent Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Hampstead. Offered a place to read history at Oxford, Sewell chose instead to enter the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, where he was tutored by Anthony Blunt and became his close friend. Sewell graduated in 1957 and worked at Christie's auction house, specialising in Old Master paintings and drawings. After leaving Christie's he became an art dealer. He completed his National Service as an officer in the Royal Army Service Corps.
In a television programme broadcast on Channel 4 on 24 July 2007, marking the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, Sewell said, "I never came out... but I have slowly emerged". Sewell has been described as bisexual but has also described himself as gay, saying he knew he was probably at the age of six. He has chastised himself for his attraction to men, describing it 'as an "affliction" and a "disability" and told readers, "no homosexual has ever chosen this sexual compulsion"'. In the first episode of The Naked Pilgrim Sewell alluded to the loss of his virginity at the hands of a 60-year-old French woman "who knew what she was doing and was determined"; Sewell was 20 at the time. In his autobiography, Sewell states that he lost his (gay) virginity at the age of 15 to a fellow pupil at Haberdashers' Aske’s School. In the late 1960s or early 1970s, when Sewell visited Salvador Dalí at his house in Cadaqués, Dalí convinced Sewell to strip and masturbate for him while he took (or pretended to take) photographs.
- "In 1959 I launched into a life of such promiscuity as might suggest that I was making up for the golden years that had passed me by. ... It was not unusual to pick up a companion on my way home ... to have had a fuck one way or the other and be home having a bath by seven, then to go and see my current lover (duration three days to three weeks, perhaps), and on the way home to pick up someone else with whom either to have a quickie before bed or take home for the night - which usually meant another perfunctory fuck first thing in the morning. Throw in a few Jack Rabbit weekends and all this might amount to a thousand fucks a year and easily a thousand sexual partners in a quinquennium."
He was listed under "National Treasures" in the Pink List 2013.
Partly based on a Wikipedia article.
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- http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2005/nov/13/art Rachel Cooke. "We pee on things and call it art". Guardian, 13 November 2005
- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2061187/When-art-critic-Brian-Sewell-set-truth-father-hed-known-uncovered-sinister-story.html Brian Sewell "Why I will never love my father", Daily Mail, 14 November 2011
- Richard Brooks "Sewell's father was sex-sadist composer", The Sunday Times, 13 November 2011
- Amiable Warriors Volume One, page 359.
- http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/brian-sewell-soviet-double-agent-anthony-blunt-did-no-harm-to-britain-8220525.html Ross Lydall "Brian Sewell: Soviet double agent Anthony Blunt did no harm to Britain", Evening Standard, 22 October 2012.
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/charlesmoore/8714975/When-will-the-BBC-ever-tell-the-truth-about-Anthony-Blunt.html Charles Moore "When will the BBC ever tell the truth about Anthony Blunt?", telegraph.co.uk, 22 August 2011.
- http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/0-9/40_years_on/how-gay-sex-changed-the-world.html "40 Years On" Channel 4 24 July 2007
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2011/nov/27/brian-sewell-interview-outsider Brian Sewell: "You know you're queer at a very early age", Guardian
- http://www.theweek.co.uk/art/art/42346/brian-sewell-my-father-was-sexually-sadistic-composer "Brian Sewell: my father was sexually sadistic composer" The Week
- [http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/jun/02/broadcasting.artnews?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487 Critic's surreal briefs encounter, Guardian
- http://www.standard.co.uk/arts/the-sex-life-of-brian-sewell-story-of-my-1000-lovers-6369061.html Evening Standard, 17 November 2011, quoting from Outsider. Always Almost: Never Quite by Brian Sewell