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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Artist's champion dies
Les Grands Rendezvous by Magritte
Magritte: Sylvester wrote a book about him in 1969
Renowned art critic David Sylvester, a champion of the work of Francis Bacon, among others, has died aged 76.

Sylvester was generally considered to be one of Britain's most influential critics of contemporary art.

He is best known as a leading authority and advocate of the work of Francis Bacon and Henry Moore but also embraced younger artists such as Rachel Whiteread.

Francis Bacon
Painter Francis Bacon: Friend and inspiration
Arts broadcaster and Editor of Tate Magazine, Tim Marlow, worked with Sylvester many times and told BBC News Online that the Art world has lost a champion.

"He wasn't a critic who sought out something new all the time for the sake of it," he says.

"He would think deeply and really considered the work and the artist."

Sylvester's had the ability to make and maintain lasting friendships with artists, including Bacon, Giacometti, de Kooning, Rothko or Jasper Johns.

For the public it was his ability to describe and explain works of art that was his great skill.


Born in London in September 1924, Sylvester's family were Russian-Jewish silver dealers.

David Sylvester was a giant in every sense of the word

Tim Marlow, editor of Tate Magazine

His interest in art was awakened when he saw a black and white illustration of Matisse's La Danse.

He did attempt to become a painter, but was discouraged by his efforts and turned to writing.

As the peak of his journalistic career, as well as writing about art Sylvester wrote about football and cricket for The Observer and reviewed films.

His books include Interviews with Francis Bacon, published in 1975, Looking at Giacometti in 1994 and About Modern Art in 1996.

In 2000 he published a study of Bacon - Looking Back at Bacon - and helped install a dramatic removal of the artist's studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.


Sylvester was also a gifted broadcaster, presenting series on Painting for BBC television and a remarkable set of interviews, in French, with the sculptor Giacometti, for BBC Radio 3.

Marlow says that Sylvester will be remembered as not just a writer and critic but as a brilliant exhibition maker.

In Britain he curated important exhibitions on Soutine, Giacometti and Magritte, and organized shows in Brussels, Paris, New York, Houston and Chicago.

About Modern Art bookcover
Sylvester's influential About Modern Art
In 1993 Sylvester won a Golden Lion for his work at the Venice Biennale - the first time the award was given to a curator and critic rather than an artist.

Sylvester recently wrote what Marlow described as a "brilliant" piece on how to hang an art exhibition for Tate Magazine.

"David Sylvester was a giant in every sense of the word," he said.

"He was a great big cuddly bear of a man with a gentle ferocity and a great intellect."

Sylvester is survived by his wife, Pamela and four daughters.

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