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Anthony Bailey
Born Anthony Cowper Bailey
(1933-01-05)5 January 1933
Portsmouth, England
Died 13 May 2020(2020-05-13) (aged 87)
Harwich, England
Occupation Writer
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Genre Nonfiction, Art History
Notable works
  • Velázquez and The Surrender of Breda
  • Vermeer: A View of Delft
  • Standing in the Sun: A Life of J. M. W. Turner
Spouse Margot Bailey (married 1957-2020)
Children 4 daughters, 9 grandchildren
Relatives Bridget Sojourner (sister)

Anthony Cowper Bailey (5 January 1933 – 13 May 2020) was an English writer and art historian.

He was evacuated to Dayton, Ohio, in 1940 during World War II. After returning to England in 1944, he attended several Hampshire grammar schools before studying history at Oxford University. In 1955, he emigrated to New York City and became a staff writer at The New Yorker for more than 30 years. He wrote twenty-three books, including biographies of artists J. M. W. Turner, John Constable, and two books on Rembrandt.

He lived on Mersea Island, near Colchester, Essex, with his wife Margot. They had four daughters together.

Early life and education

Bailey was born on 5 January 1933 in Portsmouth, England. His parents were Cowper Goldsmith Bailey and Phyllis Molony. While his father served in the British Army and his younger sister Bridget remained in England with their mother during World War II, Tony was taken in for four years by Otto and Eloise Spaeth, who had four children of their own, including a boy also named Tony. Otto Spaeth was the owner of a Dayton machine tool factory and both he and his wife were passionate art collectors. Bailey's lifelong interest in art was influenced by his time living with the Spaeths. The family's private art collection included such artists as Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Edward Hopper.

After National Service as a British Army officer with the Royal West African Frontier Force, Bailey went to Merton College, Oxford, in 1952, where he read history. In 1955 he moved to New York, assisted by the Spaeths. His early jobs were in shops selling books, first with Scribners and then in the British Book Centre owned by newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell. When a friend suggested to Bailey that he submit his writings to The New Yorker, he sent in a piece about parking meters and an account of a day spent with Austrian Catholic priest Ivan Illich, who worked for the poor in Harlem. New Yorker editor William Shawn offered him a job. There he found himself in an office next door to John Updike, who became Bailey's lifelong friend.

Under Shawn, Bailey was a "Talk of the Town" reporter and also worked briefly as a reader in the fiction department before becoming a staff writer. His work for the magazine includes profiles, reporter-at-large pieces, poems and short stories.

Career as a writer

Bailey contributed many pieces to The New Yorker magazine. The Dial Press in New York published his first novel, Making Progress, in 1959. His third novel Major André (about Benedict Arnold's attempt to hand over West Point to the British) received positive reviews in 1987.

His books included biographies of Turner and Constable, Vermeer, Velázquez, and two books on Rembrandt. Many of Bailey's papers, wartime letters and manuscripts are in the hands of the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Bailey was interviewed by NPR and The New York Observer. He contributed to the New York Herald Tribune, The New York Times, The New Republic and Esquire. In Britain, his writings featured in the New Statesman, The Observer and The Sunday Times. The Overseas Press Club awarded him the 1973 Ed Cunningham Award and the Mary Hemingway for his work with The New Yorker.

Personal life

Bailey met Margot Speight (from Yorkshire, England), his future wife, in the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York. In 1957, Bailey and Speight married in England. After several years living in Manhattan, the Baileys moved to Stonington, Connecticut, where they lived for 10 years, and had four daughters: Liz, Annie, Katie and Rachel.

Bailey was an avid sailor, a passion which he wrote about in several of his books. After moving back to England in 1970, the couple returned to the U.S. nearly every summer in order to sail the New England coast. In The Coast of Summer: Sailing New England Waters from Shelter Island to Cape Cod, Bailey describes the couple's nautical adventures in Lochinvar, their 27-foot sloop. Departing from their home port of Stonington, Connecticut, they sailed to Long Island Sound, Block Island, the Elizabeth Islands, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod, where they would visit old friends, swim, and walk the beaches. On their return voyage, they encountered Hurricane Bob, but only after Lochinvar had been tied down and the couple was safely ashore. Bailey's book The Thousand Dollar Yacht also details his knowledge and experiences on the water.

The Baileys returned to settle in England in 1970. After living in Greenwich for many years, the couple moved permanently to the seaside community of Mersea Island in Essex.


Bailey died on 13 May 2020, in Harwich, Essex, United Kingdom. He was 87 and had contracted COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in England while he was recovering from surgery to repair a broken hip he had sustained in a fall.

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