Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund (Biographical details)

Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund

Also known as

Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund; Brooke Sewell Fund


P T Brooke Sewell (q.v.) established this purchase fund for the sole use of the Department of Asia ('Oriental Antiquities' in his time). He had been in a close relationship with the Department from the late 1940s to his death in late 1958, never visiting London and the BM, but corresponding regularly with the then Keeper, Basil Gray, about objects and their acquisition by the BM. He had donated a Mughal inlaid jade plate to the Dept in the late 1930s and had established then a great liking for the BM. It is quite clear from all surviving correspondence that at no time after that visit did Brooke Sewell come to London, a point of major importance to his ultimate bequests and one investigated in detail at the time of his death. He met Basil Gray only once, in his apartment in Lausanne where he had lived for many years, and no other member of the Department.

During his last ten or so years of life and in the following nearly fifty years, Brooke Sewell's contribution to the holdings of the BM was of inestimable importance, transforming the Asian collection from something excellent, somewhat randomly put together, to what is likely to be the best of its kind in the world.

The Permanent Fund was originally intended simply for the purchase of 'Indian jades' and a limited range of other Asian material of interest to him. During the 1950s this range was extended to include the whole of Asia, save for Japanese objects much disliked by Brooke Sewell. Japanese art was included in the Brooke Sewell purchase region in the early 1960s via a decision of the Trustees at that time. Japanese art may be purchased by the Department via the Brooke Sewell Bequest, a body of money separate to the Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund. This fund is not for the sole purpose of Japanese acquisitions but is a fund useable by the whole department when necessary. The Fund is not available to the Japanese side, after the explicit wishes of Brooke Sewell. The capital that makes up the Bequest may be used by the Department but, of the Permanent Fund, only the income from the investment of the principle may be used.

Brooke Sewell wanted the Department to acquire 'nice' things, and that they not be scattered about the Museum where his name would be lost. The Asian galleries are full of objects either donated directly by Brooke Sewell or funded by one or other of his bequests. In some respects his name dominates the Asia gallery landscape as the fruits of his gifts are everywhere there to be seen. He was interested in 'groups' of objects, he said, and truly that ambition has been achieved many times over. His bequests are still the only and the most significant such gifts of their kind to the BM. His name lives here securely, forever memorialized in the material results of his astounding generosity. (RK)