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Kenneth Clark

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Title: Kenneth Clark  
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Subject: Discobolus, The Ascent of Man, The Third of May 1808, Ivone Kirkpatrick, World landscape
Collection: 1903 Births, 1983 Deaths, 20Th-Century Historians, Alumni of Trinity College, Oxford, Chancellors of the University of York, Converts to Roman Catholicism, Directors of the National Gallery, London, English Art Critics, English Art Historians, English Curators, English People of Scottish Descent, English Roman Catholics, English Television Presenters, Fellows of the British Academy, Jacob's Award Winners, Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath, Life Peers, Members of the Order of Merit, Members of the Order of the Companions of Honour, People Educated at Winchester College, People Educated at Wixenford School, Recipients of the Grand Decoration with Sash for Services to the Republic of Austria, Slade Professors of Fine Art (University of Oxford), Surveyors of the Queen's Pictures, Writers from London
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Kenneth Clark

Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark OM CH KCB FBA (13 July 1903 – 21 May 1983) was a British author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the best-known art historians and aesthetes of his generation, writing a series of books that appealed to a wide public while remaining a serious scholar. In 1969, he achieved international fame as the writer, producer and presenter of the BBC Television series Civilisation, which pioneered television documentary series combining expert personalized narration with lavish photography on location.


Early years

Clark was born in London, the only child of Kenneth MacKenzie Clark and Margaret Alice McArthur. The Clarks were a wealthy Scottish family with roots in the textile trade (the "Clark" in Coats & Clark threading). His great-great-grandfather had invented the cotton spool. Kenneth Clark the elder, reputedly "the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo," [1] had retired in 1909 at the age of 41 to become a member of the 'idle rich' (so described by Kenneth Clark in his autobiography, and W. D. Rubinstein in The Biographical Dictionary of Life Peers).

Clark was educated at Wixenford School,[2] Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied the history of art. In 1927 he married a fellow Oxford student, Elizabeth Jane Martin, who was Irish. The couple had three children: Alan, in 1928, and twins Colette (known as Celly) and Colin in 1932.

Early career

Greatly influenced by John Ruskin[3] and a protégé of the most influential art critic of the time, Bernard Berenson, Clark quickly became the British art establishment's most respected aesthete. After a stint as fine art curator at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, in 1933 at age 30, Clark was appointed director of the National Gallery. He remains the youngest person ever to hold the post. The following year he also became Surveyor of the King's Pictures, a post he held until 1945. As Director of the National Gallery he oversaw the successful relocation and storage of the collection to avoid the Blitz and continued a programme of concerts and performances. In 1939, Clark visited Australia, and later referred to it as "that intolerable continent", adding that Australian galleries had the worst art but the best Victorian pornography in the world.[4]

Clark was not wholly supportive of modern art but was an influential supporter of Henry Moore and, as Chairman of the War Artists' Advisory Committee, he persuaded the government not to conscript artists thus ensuring that Moore found work. As Director of The National Gallery he wrote Southampton Art Gallery's acquisitions policy which included "a growing collection of modern oil paintings".[5] He was also an advisor to the Ministry of Information commissioning Dylan Thomas amongst others to write scripts for propaganda films. In 1946 Clark resigned his directorship in order to devote more time to writing. Between 1946 and 1950 he was Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford. He was a founding board member and also served as Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1955 to 1960, and had a major role in the art programme of the 1951 Festival of Britain. In the preface to his book, The Nude: a study of ideal art (1956), Clark wrote, "I soon discovered, that the subject is extremely difficult to handle. There is difficulty of form; a chronological survey would be long and repetitive, but almost every other pattern is unworkable. And there is a difficulty of scope; since Jacob Burckhardt no responsible art historian would have attempted to cover both antique and post-mediaeval art."

In 1955, Clark bought Saltwood Castle in Kent.

Kenneth Clark was created Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1938, and made a Companion of Honour (CH) in 1959. He was appointed to the Order of Merit (OM) in 1976. In 1959, he received the Grand Decoration with Sash for Services to the Republic of Austria.[6]

Clark the broadcaster

An indefatigable lecturer in both academic and broadcast settings, Clark's mastery was to make accessible complex and profound subject matter that could then be appreciated by an extremely broad audience. He was one of the founders, in 1954, of the Independent Television Authority, serving as its Chairman until 1957. In 1969 he wrote and presented Civilisation for BBC television (the rival of the ITA's stations), a series on the history of Western civilisation as seen through its art, based upon Clark's book of the same title. Also broadcast in the US on PBS in 1969, Civilisation was successful on both sides of the Atlantic, gaining Clark an international profile. According to Clark, the series was created in answer to growing criticism of Western civilisation, from its value system to its heroes. In 1970, the Irish national newspaper TV critics honoured Clark with a Jacob's Award for Civilisation.[7] A later TV series was Romantic Rebellion [1]. In 1970, Clark narrated "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries,” a television program based on the Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial exhibition of the same name.[8]

A self-described "hero-worshipper", Clark proved to be an ardent pro-individualist, humanist, and anti-Marxist. His comments on the subject of 1960s radical university students, quoted from the final televised episode of Civilisation, are but one example of his view of contemporary culture in all its various forms: "I can see them [the students] still through the University of the Sorbonne, impatient to change the world, vivid in hope, although what precisely they hope for, or believe in, I don't know." – Clark, Civilisation, Episode 12.

Later life

Clark was chancellor of the University of York from 1967 to 1978 and a trustee of the British Museum. He was awarded a life peerage in 1969, taking the title Baron Clark of Saltwood in the County of Kent (the British satirical magazine Private Eye nicknamed him Lord Clark of Civilisation).[9] In 1972, he was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath.[1]

In 1975 he supported the campaign to create a separate Turner Gallery for the Turner Bequest, and in 1980 agreed to open a symposium on Turner at the University of York, of which he had been chancellor, but illness compelled him to back out of that commitment, which Lord Harewood undertook in his place.

His wife Jane died in 1976, and the following year Lord Clark married Nolwen de Janzé-Rice, the ex-wife of Edward Rice and daughter of Count Frederic de Janze (a well-known French racing driver of the 1920s and 1930s) by his wife, Alice Silverthorne (better known by her married names as Alice de Janzé or Alice de Trafford), a wealthy American heiress resident in Kenya.

Clark was received into the Catholic Church on his death bed.[2][3][4]


Clark's elder son, Alan Clark, became a prominent Conservative MP and was a writer-historian and celebrated diarist. Alan's younger brother Colin Clark was a writer and filmmaker.

Styles and honours

  • Mr Kenneth Clark (1903–38)
  • Sir Kenneth Clark KCB (1938–46)
  • Prof. Sir Kenneth Clark KCB (1946–49)
  • Prof. Sir Kenneth Clark KCB FBA (1949–50)
  • Sir Kenneth Clark KCB FBA (1950–59)
  • Sir Kenneth Clark CH KCB FBA (1959–69)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Clark CH KCB FBA (1969–76)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Clark OM CH KCB FBA (1976–83)


  • The Gothic Revival (1928)
  • Catalogue of the Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci in the Collection of HM King at Windsor Castle (1935 2 vols)
  • Leonardo da Vinci: An Account of his development as an Artist (1939, rev. ed. 1952)
  • Florentine Painting: The Fifteenth Century (1945)
  • Piero della Francesca (1951)
  • Landscape into Art (1949), adapted from his Slade Lectures
  • Moments of Vision (1954), the Romanes Lecture for 1954. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • The Nude: a study in ideal form (1956) A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, delivered in 1953.
  • Looking at Pictures (1960)
  • Ruskin Today (1964) (edited and annotated by)
  • Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance (1966)
  • The Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci in the Collection of HM Queen at Windsor Castle (1968/9 with Carlo Pedretti 3 vols)
  • Civilisation: A Personal View (1969), book version of the television series
  • Blake and Visionary Art (1973)
  • The Romantic Rebellion (1973), book version of the television series
  • Another Part of the Wood (1974) (autobiography)
  • Animals and Men (1977)
  • The Other Half (1977) (autobiography)
  • What is a Masterpiece? (1979)
  • Feminine Beauty (1980)


Further reading

  • Meryle Secrest. Kenneth Clark: A Biography (1985)
  • Vital Vulgarity Clark's role in the founding of ITV (from the Transdiffusion group of TV history websites)
  • – for Clark's second marriage to Nolwen, and her maternal affiliation
  • – for Lady Clark's mother
  • Leigh Rayment's Peerage Pages

External links

  • Portraits of Kenneth Clark at the National Portrait Gallery, London
  • The Sir Kenneth Mackenzie Clark Collection at the Victoria University Library at the University of Toronto
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Sir Ernest Pooley, Bt
Chair of the Arts Council of Great Britain
Succeeded by
The Lord Cottesloe
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir C. H. Collins Baker
Surveyor of the King's Pictures
Succeeded by
Anthony Blunt


Preceded by
Lord Harewood
Chancellor of the University of York
Succeeded by
Michael Swann
Media offices
Preceded by
New office
Chairman of the Independent Television Authority
Succeeded by
Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick
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