Basil Taylor

I gave a talk earlier in the week at the Paul Mellon Centre and tried to find out a bit more than I already knew about Basil Taylor, the art historian who befriended Paul Mellon and both encouraged him to take an interest in British art and, I think, acted as a go-between with the London dealers. But there is very little information available online apart from a photograph of him, which is being sold by Amazon.

From what little I know, now supplemented by information supplied by Charles Matthews, he was educated at Tonbridge and Wadham, studied at the Slade after the war, then produced arts programmes on the Third Programme. In 1953, he was appointed librarian at the Royal College of Art and, in 1958, Reader in General Studies, which, at the time, included George Steiner and Iris Murdoch on the faculty. He developed an interest in George Stubbs, on whom he became the greatest expert, but never published the monograph he planned, only a shorter book published by Phaidon Press in 1971. He met Paul Mellon in Virginia in 1959, and encouraged him – very successfully – to take an interest in, and support research on, British art. He became the first and only Director of the Paul Mellon Founation for British Art, which was dissolved in 1968 because of his over-lavish expenditure. His widow, Kay, supported a student every year on the V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design and I remain eternally grateful to her.

But there are surely people still alive who remember him.


7 thoughts on “Basil Taylor

  1. His book on Stubbs, although short, is probably the best. It considers Stubbs’s amazing skill in drawing which learnt from Michelangelo and was every bit as understanding of anatomy.

  2. He appears in the 1953 short ‘Artists Must Live’ directed by John Read (son of Herbert). It’s a great document detailing the probems facing contemporary artists, in particular how to earn a living in the post-war modern world. Revealingly, the film was produced by the BBC with the help of the Arts Council & BFI, emerging public bodies acting as patrons and attempting to define taste in fifties Britain.

  3. Catherine Dyer says:

    Perhaps if you hadn’t been so snooty at Cambridge you might have talked to me when I was doing my dissertation on George Stubbs. We might have benefited from each other.

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