Not His Type

Frank Kermode

  • About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester
    Chatto, 448 pp, £25.00, June 1996, ISBN 0 7011 6268 6

In a preliminary chapter called ‘Curriculum Vitae’ David Sylvester explains that he became interested in art when, at 17, he was fascinated by a black and white reproduction of a Matisse. He at once began to paint in oils, but soon discovered that he lacked talent and began to write about art instead, devoting himself thenceforth to the black and white of the page. A left-wing journal here called the Tribute accepted an article he wrote about a London exhibition. Now 18, he was launched on a career for which he was but insecurely qualified. It was wartime, and he had seen very few foreign pictures; the National Gallery exposed only one Old Master a month. But, then as now, he was almost as interested in artists as he was in art, and met many examples of the species in Soho clubs. Being at home with painters and intellectuals considerably his seniors seems to have come naturally to him, and soon we find him in Paris on familiar terms with Michel and Louise Leiris, Jacques Lacan, Sylvia Bataille, André Masson and Alberto Giacometti, the last of whom was to be enduringly important to his career.

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