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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions