The Art Criticism of David Sylvester
The English art critic and curator David Sylvester (1924-2001) played a significant role in the formation of taste in Britain during the second half of the twentieth century. Through his writing, curating and other work Sylvester did much to shape the reputations of, and discourse around, important twentieth century artists including Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore and René Magritte. At the same time his career is of significant sociohistorical interest. On a personal level it shows how a schoolboy expelled at the age of fifteen with no qualifications went on to become a CBE, a Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the first critic to receive a Leone d'Oro at the Venice Biennale, assembling a personal collection of artworks worth millions of pounds in the process. In terms of the history of post-war art more broadly, meanwhile, Sylvester's criticism provides a way of understanding developments in British art and its relation to those in Paris and New York during the 1950s and 1960s.\ud \ud This thesis provides the first survey of Sylvester's entire output as an art critic across different media and genres, and makes a case for him as a commentator of comparable significance to Roger Fry, Herbert Read, and other British critics who have already received significant scholarly attention. I take a twofold approach, analysing both the quality of Sylvester's writing and criticism, and its function as a catalyst for furthering the careers of artists and instigating significant exhibitions. Common to all of these strands is Sylvester's distinctive critical sensibility, which placed an emphasis on his own aesthetic experiences and how they could be articulated through criticism.