Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Clark

Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM, CH, KCB, FBA (July 13, 1903 – May 21, 1983) was an English author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the most famous art historians of his generation. In 1969, he was catapulted to international fame as the writer, producer and presenter of the BBC Television series, "".


Early life

Kenneth Clark was born in London, the only child of Kenneth MacKenzie Clark and Margaret Alice McArthur, his cousin. 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 had retired in 1909 at the age of 41 to become a member of the 'idle rich' (as described by W. D. Rubinstein in "The Biographical Dictionary of Life Peers").

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

Early career

A protégé of the most influential art critic of the time, Bernard Berenson, Clark quickly became the British art establishment's most respected aesthetician. After a stint as fine arts curator at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, in 1933 at age 30, Clark was appointed director of the National Gallery. He was 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. He was a controversial figure however, in part due to his distaste for much of modern art and Post-Modernist thought. Nevertheless, he was an influential supporter of modern sculptor Henry Moore and, as Chairman of the War Artists committee, he persuaded the government not to conscript artists thus ensuring that Moore found work. 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 program of the Festival of Britain.

Kenneth Clark was created Knight Commander of the Bath in 1938, and made a Companion of Honour in 1959. He also received the Order of Merit in 1976. In 1955 he purchased Saltwood Castle in Kent.

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, when he moved to ITA's rival BBC. In 1969 he wrote and produced "" for BBC television, a series on the history of Western civilisation as seen through its art. Also broadcast on PBS in 1969, "Civilisation" was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, catapulting Clark to international fame. According to Clark, the series was created in answer to the 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". ["The Irish Times", "Controversy is indication of RTÉ's success, says minister", December 11, 1970]

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, from a final episode of "Civilisation", are but one example of his extremely critical view of Post Modernism in all its contemporary 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.

Clark believed in the sublime and noble nature of man, and his quiet, witty and often devastating criticism of environmentalism, the Monarchy, religious authoritarianism and Statism continues to win him praise from a wide range of the political spectrum, most notably from those of a Classical Liberal and Objectivist mind-set. And yet, Clark was also able to see the Church as a repository for the best minds that the West had produced, a place where men of action were necessarily attracted. A highly tolerant man, in discussing those with whom he disagreed, Clark was able in a dignified and respectful manner, to illustrate his differences along with effectively expressing his praise.

Later life

He was Chancellor of the University of York from 1967 to 1978 and a trustee of the British Museum. Clark 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").

In 1975 he supported the campaign to create a separate Turner Gallery for the Turner Bequest (an aim still unfulfilled) 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, former wife of Edward Rice, and daughter of the Count of Janzé alias Comte 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 Janze or Alice de Trafford), a wealthy American heiress resident in Kenya. Lord Clark died in Hythe after a short illness in 1983. In the last days of his life, he was received into the Catholic Church.


Lord Clark's elder son, Alan Clark, became a prominent Conservative MP and was a writer-historian.

Lord Clark continues to be a source of inspiration for many contemporary artists, historians and television producers.


* "The great artist takes what he needs."
* "Heroes don't often tolerate the company of other heroes."
* "Seen by itself the David's body might be some unusually taut and vivid work of antiquity; it is only when we come to the head that we are aware of a spiritual force that the ancient world never knew. I suppose that this quality, which I may call heroic, is not a part of most people's idea of civilisation. It involves a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilised life. It is the enemy of happiness."
* "Opera, next to Gothic architecture, is one of the strangest inventions of Western man. It could not have been foreseen by any logical process."
* "People sometimes tell me that they prefer barbarism to civilization. I doubt if they have given it a long enough trial. Like the people of Alexandria, they are bored by civilisation; but all the evidence suggests that the boredom of barbarism is infinitely greater."
* "It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs."
* "Lives devoted to Beauty seldom end well."
* "I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room."
* "The great achievement of the Catholic Church lay in harmonizing, civilizing the deepest impulses of ordinary, ignorant people."

Popular culture references

*In Episode 37 of the television series "Monty Python's Flying Circus", Clark is portrayed in a boxing match against Jack Bodell, then UK heavyweight champion. Since Clark merely paces the ring lecturing about English renaissance art and does not throw any punches, Bodell knocks him out in the first round. Bodell is thus named the new Professor of Fine Art at Oxford.

*On "The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail", Clark is portrayed as introducing the final portion of the record. As 'Clark' sounds rather different than he ought to, the announcer reassures the listener that it "was" Clark, and that he "had a bit of a cold".

*In Episode 21 of the television series "Second City Television", Clark is portrayed as a guest on the Sammy Maudlin Show, where he promotes a sequel to Civilisation by showing some outtakes from the show.

*In Not the Nine O'Clock News, Series 2 - Episode 7 First Aired: May 12, 1980, the Under Secretary For Defence, (Rowan Atkinson), after explaining that the world is about to end and that everyone should have as much sex as possible before civilization collapses, sums up with "Eat your heart out, Lord Clark."

*He is mentioned as one of the many members of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

tyles and Honours

* Mr Kenneth Clark (1903-1938)
* Sir Kenneth Clark KCB (1938-1946)
* Prof. Sir Kenneth Clark KCB (1946-1949)
* Prof. Sir Kenneth Clark KCB FBA (1949-1950)
* Sir Kenneth Clark KCB FBA (1950-1959)
* Sir Kenneth Clark CH KCB FBA (1959-1969)
* The Rt. Hon. The Lord Clark CH KCB FBA (1969-1976)
* The Rt. Hon. The Lord Clark OM CH KCB FBA (1976-1983)


*"The Gothic Revival" (1928)
*"Catalogue of the Windsor Leonardo Drawings" (1935)
*"Leonardo da Vinci" (1939)
*"Piero della Francesca" (1951)
*"Landscape into Art" (1949)
*"Moments of Vision" (1954), the Romanes Lecture for 1954. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
*"The Nude" (1956)
*"Looking at Pictures" (1960)
*"Ruskin Today" (1964) (edited and annotated by)
*"Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance" (1966)
*"Civilisation: A Personal View" (1969)
*"Blake and Visionary Art" (1973)
*"The Romantic Rebellion" (1973)
*"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

External links


NAME=Clark, Kenneth
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Clark, Kenneth Mackenzie; Clark, Kenneth, Sir; Clark, Baron
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Art historian, broadcaster and museum director
DATE OF BIRTH=July 13 1903
PLACE OF BIRTH=London, United Kingdom
DATE OF DEATH=May 21 1983
PLACE OF DEATH=Hythe, United Kingdom

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