David Sylvester


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Anthony David Bernard Sylvester was a British art critic and curator. Although he received no formal education in the arts, during his long career, he was influential in promoting modern artists, particularly Francis Bacon, Joan Miró, and Lucian Freud. Born into a north-London Jewish family, Sylvester had trouble as a student at University College School and was thrown out of the family home. He wrote for the paper Tribune and went to Paris in 1947, where he met Alberto Giacometti, one of his strongest influences on him.

Sylvester is credited with coining the term kitchen sink originally to describe a strand of post-war British painting typified by John Bratby. Sylvester used the phrase negatively but was widely applied to other art forms, including literature and theatre. During the 1950s, Sylvester worked with Henry Moore, Freud, and Bacon but also supported Richard Hamilton and the other "Young Turks" of British Pop art. This led him to become a prominent media figure in the 1960s. 

During the 1960s and 1970s, Sylvester occupied a number of roles at the Arts Council of Great Britain, serving on advisory panels and the main panel. He was also a trustee of the Tate Gallery, among a number of such positions. In 1969, he curated a Renoir exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, for which a young Nicholas Serota assisted him. During the 1970s, he became interested in and collected early oriental carpets. 

And in 1983, he co-curated (with Donald King of the Victoria and Albert Museum) an exhibition, The Eastern Carpet in the Western World, at the Hayward Gallery. Sylvester was awarded a Golden Lion at the 1993 Venice Biennale for curating an exhibition of Francis Bacon's work. He was married to Pamela Briddon (three daughters; marriage dissolved). He was also the father of the artist Cecily Brown with the writer Shena Mackay.

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