Obituary: Ewan Phillips

Ewan Maurice Godfrey van Zwanenberg Phillips, art dealer and administrator: born 15 March 1914; married twice (three daughters, and one son deceased); died 8 May 1994.

THE LIFE of Ewan Phillips was a paradigm of the art world of 20th- century Britain. A man of great modesty, charm and intelligence, invariably opposed to any form of injustice or intolerance, strongly inclined to the Left, yet resisting the siren-song of Communism, he was an art historian, an administrator, a critic and picture dealer, a founder member of the Artists' International Association, the first Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art and a member of the International Association of Art Critics since its inception.

Born of a family of well-to-do Dutch Jews who had acquired wealth through a butchery business, his Harrow-educated father had opened an art gallery in Duke Street, St James's, dealing in such avant-garde artists as Matthew Smith, Leon Underwood, RO Dunlop and Jacob Epstein, with whose family the young Ewan became very familiar. His mother, born in London, was a lively and formidable character, who lived to an advanced age, and had been greatly in demand as a model for Augustus John and Epstein. Her Christmas parties in Hampstead initiated in the late 1930s in memory of Peter Warlock, one of their close friends, became legendary.

Having left school in 1930 Phillips spent a year at Goldsmiths' College of Art in Lewisham, where his contemporaries included Merlyn Evans and his first wife Betsy Blake. He then became one of the first students at the newly opened Courtauld Institute of Art, under the aegis of Anthony Blunt. Deeply involved in anti-Fascist activities, he was beaten up by the police and arrested in the course of a demonstration against the excesses which followed the burning of the Reichstag, he was bailed by JBS Haldane, and fined pounds 2 at Bow Street. One of the founders of the Artists' Refugee Committee, he became acquainted with Nikolaus Pevsner, who was then working at Gordon Russell's showroom in Wigmore Street. When Franco was victorious in Spain, Phillips assumed responsibility for the artist Gali (Francisco-Gali Fabra), who had been the Republic's Minister for Fine Art, and who lived with the Phillipses for some time. In 1938 he became involved in the exhibition of 20th-century German art at the New Burlington Galleries, organised by Herbert Read and Roland Penrose as a counterblast to Hitler's degenerate art exhibition in Germany.

During the war he served in the Intelligence Corps, mostly in Mombasa and Mauritius, and at the end of it applied to Anthony Blunt for a post in 'Monuments, Fine Art and Archives', the unit dealing with the retrieval of lost and looted works of art. After a short interval he was posted, with the rank of captain to take over as MFA & A officer-in-charge of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, where for three years he worked in amicable harmony with German museum officials. He interviewed Eva Braun's parents, returned to their original sites some of the thousands of church bells from all over Europe which had been assembled on the Hamburg docksides to make into weapons of war, and did a good deal to encourage younger artists in Germany.

In 1948 he heard that the idea of creating a Museum of Modern Art in London, initiated originally by Peggy Guggenheim and Herbert Read before the war, had been revived with the co-operation of Roland Penrose, EC (Peter) Gregory of the publishers Lund Humphries and Peter Watson, the patron of Horizon, the magazine edited by Cyril Connolly. He got the job of Director, acting as midwife of an institution not yet fully born, but one which was to be of considerable significance in the history of British art. In 1953 he resigned from the job, partly in connection with a competition for the statue of the Unknown Political Prisoner financed by a group of American businessmen; he suspected something of the kind of influence exerted on the magazine Encounter.

On the advice of Peter Gimpel, Phillips then turned his attention to art dealing, working for some time on his own and then joining the Kaplan Gallery, opposite his father's old gallery in Duke Street, where he arranged the first London exhibitions of Jean Tinguely, Leonore Fini and Jean Atlan, as well as exhibitions of Colquhoun, MacBryde and other artists of that generation. Two of his colleagues at the Kaplan Gallery were Annely Juda and John Kasmin, both later potent figures. In 1965 he opened his own gallery in Maddox Street, where he mounted a series of interesting but unprofitable exhibitions, and after three years or so it closed. Doggedly explorative in his tastes and passionate in his artistic convictions, he was inhibited by his innate sense of tolerance and rationality from those powerful ambitions which bring spectacular success to some dealers.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash