Full Name: Sitwell, Sacheverell Reresby, Sir
Date Born: 15 November 1897
Date Died: 01 October 1988
Place Born: Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England, UK
Place Died: Towcester, Northamptonshire, England, UK
Home Country/ies: United Kingdom
Subject Area(s): Baroque, Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, Modern (style or period), and painting (visual works)
Career(s): art critics
Art critic, esthete and exponent of modernist and Italian baroque painting in England. Sitwell was the son of Sir George Reresby (fourth baronet of) Sitwell (1860-1943), a writer on gardens, and Lady Ida Emily Augusta Denison (Sitwell) (c. 1869-1937). His family was distracted by legal issues resulting in his mother’s debts for which she was eventually imprisoned. Sitwell chose the life of an aesthete at age 17, adopting his mother’s spending habits for books, pottery, and Japanese prints. He also began writing poems, a pursuit he would follow his whole life. Sitwell attended Eton College (until 1916) joining the 5th Reserve Battalion, the Grenadier Guards at Chelsea Barracks, London for war service. Discharged in 1919, Sitwell briefly attended Balliol College, Oxford University, but never graduated. Instead, he moved to London with his older brother, Osbert (1892-1969). In 1919 he and Osbert organized the Exhibition of Modern French Art at the Mansard Gallery at Heal’s Department Store. The show which introduced Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani to the public in England, came under praise from many modernist critics, including Roger Fry, who nine years before had introduced the Post-Impressionists to Britain in the same manner. Sitwell’s Southern Baroque Art, a work of prose privately published and essentially non-art historical, first appeared in 1924 and secured for him a reputation as a writer and art historian. It examined the arts (including music) of Italy and Spain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, unlike his earlier publications of poetry, was well received. In 1925 he married a Canadian debutante, Georgia Doble (1905/6-1980), whom he met in London. He established the Magnasco Society, a foundation devoted to the Italian art of the 17th and 18th centuries in the 1920s. Sitwell followed his first art book with German Baroque Art in 1927 and The Gothick North in 1929. He turned his attention to composers in the 1930s, writing biographies of Mozart (1932), Liszt (1934), and Scarlatti (1935). During this time his wife had a brief affair with Matisse scholar Georges Duthuit. In 1945, Sitwell returned to art with British Architects and Craftsmen. Among the office consonant with his family’s peerage that he held were justice of the peace, 1943, and high sheriff of Northamptonshire, 1948-1949. He wrote a weekly column for the Sunday Times (London) for ten months in 1950. Sitwell avoided social situations, which his socialite wife deeply missed; they both had affairs, but remained together throughout their lives. He became the sixth baronet in 1969 with the death of Osbert, who, distrusting Sacheverell’s extravagance, left the bulk of the estate to Sacheverells’ son, Reresby (b. 1927). For most of his life, the Sitwells lived in the family home, Weston Hall, in Northamptonshire, though the Sitwell’s owned a remodelled medieval castle near Florence, Montegufoni, left to them by their father. His sister was the writer and poet Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964). The bulk of his papers reside at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin. In 1994, the National Portrait Gallery, London, held an exhibition of the art they influenced. Sitwell’s art writing, the best of which is on architecture, owes much to his skill as a prose writer. Together with Denis Mahon, Tancred Borenius and Anthony Blunt, he brought an interest to Italian baroque art to England, an art epoch which had been viewed as decadent by much of the British art establishment. Southern Baroque, in particular brought an appreciation to Rococo architecture which had been despised by the English-speaking public.
[complete bibliography:] Ritchie, Neil. Sacheverell Sitwell: an Annotated and Descriptive Bibliography, 1916-1986. Florence: Giardo Press, 1987; Narrative Pictures: a Survey of English Genre and its Painters. New York: Scribner’s, 1938; Conversation Pieces: a Survey of English Domestic Portraits and their Painters. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1937; Southern Baroque Art: a Study of Painting, Architecture and Music in Italy and Spain of the 17th & 18th Centuries. New York: Knopf, 1924; Spanish Baroque Art, with Buildings in Portugal, Mexico, and Other Colonies. London: Duckworth, 1931; The Gothick North: a Study of Mediaeval Life, Art, and Thought. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929; Canons of Giant Art: Twenty Torsos in Heroic Landscapes. London: Faber and Faber, 1933; Southern Baroque Revisited. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967.
Pearson, John. The Sitwells: a Family’s Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979; Mégroz, Rudolphe L. The Three Sitwells: a Biographical and Critical Study. London: Richards Press, 1927; Lehmann, John. A Nest of Tigers: the Sitwells in their Time. Boston: Little, Brown1968; Skipwith, Joanna. The Sitwells and the Arts of the 1920s and 1930s. London: National Portrait Gallery, 1994; Bradford, Sarah. Splendours and Miseries: a Life of Sacheverell Sitwell. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993; Parker, Derek, ed. Sacheverell Sitwell: a Symposium. London: B. Rota, 1975; Lees-Milne, James. “Sacheverell Sitwell.” in Fourteen Friends. London: John Murray, 1996; [autobiographies] All Summer in a Day: an Autobiographical Fantasia. London: Duckworth, 1926, Dance of the Quick and the Dead: an Entertainment of the Imagination. London: Faber and Faber, 1936, For Want of a Golden City. London: Thames and Hudson, 1973, Splendours and Miseries. London: Faber and Faber, 1943; Sitwell, Osbert. The Scarlet Tree, being the Second Volume of Left Hand, Right Hand! An Autobiography. London: Macmillan & Co., 1946; [obituaries:] “Sir Sacheverell Sitwell Dies at 90, Last of Trio of Literary Eccentrics.” New York Times October 3, 1988, p. B6; Lees-Milne, James. The Independent (London) October 3, 1988, p. 27.
Contributors: Lee Sorensen