Clark, Sir Kenneth
Category: Business and political leaders
Kenneth Mackenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM, CH, KCB, FBA (13 July 1903 – 21 May 1983) was a British art historian, museum director, and broadcaster.
Clark was appointed director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford when he was twenty-seven, and three years later he was put in charge of Britain's National Gallery. His twelve years there saw the gallery transformed to make it accessible and inviting to a wider public. During the Second World War, when the collection was taken for safe keeping away from London, Clark made the building available for a series of daily concerts which proved a celebrated morale booster during the Blitz.
After the war, Clark accepted the chairmanship of the UK's first commercial television network [ITV]. Once the service had been successfully launched and established he agreed to write and present programmes about the arts. These established him as a household name in Britain, and he was asked to create the first colour series about the arts, Civilisation, first broadcast in 1969 in Britain and in many countries soon after. He spent the rest of his life in broadcasting for ITV and the BBC.
State and other honours received by Clark included Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1938; Fellow of the British Academy, 1949, Companion of Honour, 1959; life peerage, 1969; Companion of Literature, 1974; and the Order of Merit 1976. Overseas honours included Commander of the Legion of Honour, France; Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland and the Order of Merit, Austria.
Clark was elected a member or honorary member of the Conseil Artistique des Musées Nationaux of France; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Institute of Architects. the Swedish Academy; the Spanish Academy; the Florentine Academy; the Académie française; and the Institut de France. He was awarded honorary degrees by the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Oxford, Sheffield, Warwick, York, and in the US Columbia and Brown universities.
He was an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal College of Art. Other honours and awards included Serena Medal of the British Academy (for Italian Studies); the Gold Medal and Citation of Honour of New York University; and the US National Gallery of Art Medal.
Clark's old school, Winchester College, holds an annual art history speaking competition for the Kenneth Clark Prize. The winner of the competition is awarded a golden Lord Clark Medal sculpted by a fellow Old Wykehamist, Anthony Smith. At the Courtauld Institute in London, the lecture theatre is named in Clark's honour.
Wikipedia states that Clark’s religious outlook was “unconventional, but he believed in the divine, rejected atheism, and found the Church of England too secular in its outlook.” Clark's widow said that her husband always had a profound Christian sensitivity, and that whenever he went into a church in search of works of art he would first kneel and pray.
And he had quite a profound spiritual experience – just one - but its impact lasted his entire life. In his autobiography, he gives the impression that he made every effort to try to put it to the back of his mind, simply because its effects did not square at all with the life he was leading or believed was likely to lead. “I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course”. But the very fact he wrote about it at all and with some vividness shows the memory had not faded, it just went underground to reappear at the end of his life.
Shortly before his death he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, although his memorial service was held at the Anglican St James's, Piccadilly.
Clark and his aims – to make art more accessible
Clark wrote books on art, he opened up museums to more people, he used the media – television and broadcasting in general - to inform and he lectured extensively. During the 1930s Clark was greatly in demand as a lecturer, for example, and he frequently used his research for his talks as the basis of his books.
James Hall - The Guardian
Clark was the most seductive writer on art since Ruskin and Pater ... Today, when most art historians write as joylessly as lawyers and accountants, such verve is sorely needed.
Opening access to paintings and sculpture
Whilst at the National Gallery, Clark devised many initiatives with accessibility in mind. In an editorial, The Burlington Magazine said,
Clark put all his insight and imagination into making the National Gallery a more sympathetic place in which the visitor could enjoy a great collection of European paintings.
He had rooms re-hung and frames improved; by 1935 he had achieved the installation of a laboratory and introduced electric lighting, which made evening opening possible for the first time. A programme of cleaning was begun, and experimentally, the glass was removed from some pictures.
Clark was actually a very traditional curator, his education had been conventional and his approach was conventional. But it would not be right to be critical, as in order to make art more accessible to everyone, one has to largely be a little more conventional in one’s selection of paintings, than perhaps long term one would choose to be.
A 1935 publication by Clark published in The Listener, "The Future of Painting", was critical of surrealists and abstract artists. He judged both as too elitist, inaccessible and too specialised and he said that art must be rooted in the observable world. This theme is repeated over and over again in all he did, and it is exceptionally pertinent to his time, as in general the arts had been denied to anyone but a small, usually rich, elite.
The institution of a "picture of the month" was also instituted during the war, retained after the war, and, at 2017, continues to the present day.
During the war, Clark was recruited into the newly-formed Ministry of Information, where he was put in charge of the film division, and was later promoted to be controller of home publicity. He set up the War Artists' Advisory Committee, and persuaded the government to employ official war artists in considerable numbers. There were up to two hundred engaged under Clark's initiative. Those designated "official war artists" included Edward Ardizzone, Paul and John Nash, Mervyn Peake, John Piper and Graham Sutherland. Artists employed on short-term contracts included Jacob Epstein, Laura Knight, L. S. Lowry, Henry Moore and Stanley Spencer.
Thus through Clark’s control, a great number of Britain’s most talented artists were given employment and survived the lack of commissions that war always occasions. And despite his apparent criticism of the surreal and abstract, you will notice that amongst those artists are abstract and surreal artists. In essence, he was not actually against abstract art as long as it wasn’t elitist.
Widening the audience for art and removing the snobbery
Clark kept the National Gallery open to the public during the war, hosting a celebrated series of lunchtime and early evening concerts. They were the inspiration of the pianist Myra Hess, whose idea Clark greeted with delight, as a suitable way for the building to be "used again for its true purposes, the enjoyment of beauty." There was no advance booking, and audience members were free to eat their sandwiches and walk in or out during breaks in the performance.
The concerts were an immediate and enormous success. The Musical Times commented, "Countless Londoners and visitors to London, civilian and service alike, came to look on the concerts as a haven of sanity in a distraught world."
In total, 1,698 concerts were given to an aggregate audience of more than 750,000 people.
Architecture ‘maketh the man’
Clark was as interested in architecture as he was in sculpture and paintings. He admired Giles Gilbert Scott, Maxwell Fry, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto and others, but was greatly critical of many contemporary buildings. In the 1950s and 1960s onwards, the occasional inspired building was surrounded by a sea of mediocrity, of drab, unimaginative sprawl.
Clark was essentially a socialist in outlook – an old style socialist – whose concern was that housing and the environment moulded the man. Dreary concrete tower blocks, regimented treeless estates of monoculture housing, produced people without hope and without joy. Clark fought this, but this was perhaps a challenge too far. He soon recognised that the socialism he supported was a very long way from the Marxist/communist element that was filtering into the arts and into the provision of public housing and public buildings. At one time, private patronage had supported the arts and provision of housing [such as Port Sunlight or Bourneville], but with the punitive taxation introduced after the war, Clark recognised this source of funding – the philanthropist - could no longer support the arts.
Using TV and radio to encourage more interest in art
Clark's first series for ATV, Is Art Necessary?, began in 1958. Both he and television were finding their way, and programmes in the series ranged from the stiff and studio-bound to a film in which Clark and Henry Moore toured the British Museum at night, flashing their torches at the exhibits. When the series came to an end in 1959, Clark and the production team reviewed and refined their techniques for the next series, Five Revolutionary Painters, which attracted a considerable audience.
By the time of a 1960 programme about Picasso, Clark had further honed his presentational skills and came across as relaxed as well as authoritative. Two series on architecture followed, culminating in a programme called The Royal Palaces of Britain in 1966, a joint venture by ITV and the BBC, described as "by far the most important heritage programme shown on British television to date".
The next series of note was Civilisation, which ran from 1966–1969. David Attenborough, the controller of the BBC's new second television channel, BBC2, was in charge of introducing colour broadcasting to the UK. He conceived the idea of a series about great paintings as the standard-bearer for colour television, and had no doubt that Clark would be much the best presenter for it. Clark was attracted by the suggestion, but at first declined to commit himself. He later recalled that what convinced him that he should take part was Attenborough’s use of the word "civilisation" to sum up what the series would be about.
I had no clear idea what "civilisation" meant, but thought it was preferable to barbarism, and fancied that this was the moment to say so. Clark on the genesis of Civilisation
The series consisted of thirteen programmes, written and presented by Clark, covering western European civilisation from the end of the Dark Ages to the early twentieth century. As the civilisation under consideration excluded Graeco-Roman, Chinese and other historically important cultures, a title was chosen that disclaimed comprehensiveness: Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark. Although it focused chiefly on the visual arts and architecture, there were substantial sections about drama, literature, philosophy and socio-political movements. Clark wanted to include more about law and philosophy, but "I could not think of any way of making them visually interesting."
The principal director, Michael Gill, and their production team spent three years from 1966 filming in a hundred and seventeen locations in thirteen countries. The filming was to the highest technical standards of the day, and quickly went over budget; it cost £500,000 by the time it was complete.
Scholars and academics had their understandable quibbles, but for the general public the series was something like a revelation. Art-museum exhibits in both England and the U.S. reported a surge of visitors following each episode. The New Yorker on Civilisation
Civilisation attracted unprecedented viewing figures for a high art series: 2.5 million viewers in Britain and 5 million in the US. Clark's book derived from the series has never been out print, and the BBC continued to sell thousands of copies of the DVD set of Civilisation every year.
In 2016, The New Yorker echoed the words of John Betjeman, calling Clark "the man who made the best telly you’ve ever seen".
Clark went on to make a series of six programmes for ITV, collectively titled Pioneers of Modern Painting, directed by his son Colin. They were screened in November and December 1971, with a programme on each of Manet, Cezanne, Monet, Seurat, Rousseau, and Munch. Five years later, Clark returned to the BBC, presenting five programmes about Rembrandt.
Stourton, James (2016). Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation.
His debt to Ruskin can never be sufficiently emphasised, and it informed many of his interests: the Gothic Revival, J. M. W. Turner, socialism, and the belief that art criticism can be a branch of literature. But above all, Ruskin taught Clark that art and beauty are everyone's birthright – and he took that message into the twentieth century
Life and career
Clark was born in London, the only child of Kenneth Mackenzie Clark (1868–1932) and his wife, (Margaret) Alice. Kenneth Clark senior retired in his mid-twenties as a member of the "idle rich", as Clark put it: although "many people were richer, there can have been few who were idler". The Clarks maintained country homes at Sudbourne Hall, Suffolk, and at Ardnamurchan, Argyll, and wintered on the French Riviera. Kenneth senior was a sportsman, a gambler, an eccentric and heavy drinker. Clark had little in common with his father, though he always remained fond of him. Alice Clark was shy and distant, but her son received affection from a devoted nanny. An only child not especially close to his parents, the young Clark had a boyhood that was often solitary, but he was generally happy.
Clark was educated at Wixenford School and, from 1917 to 1922, Winchester College. The school library contained the collected writings of John Ruskin, which Clark read avidly, and which influenced him for the rest of his life, not only in their artistic judgments but in their progressive political and social beliefs.
From Winchester, Clark won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied modern history. He graduated in 1925 with a second-class honours degree. While at Oxford, Clark was greatly impressed by the lectures of Roger Fry, the influential art critic who staged the first Post-Impressionism exhibitions in Britain. Under Fry's influence he developed an understanding of modern French painting.
Clark attracted the attention of Charles F. Bell (1871–1966), Keeper of the Fine Art Department of the Ashmolean Museum. Bell became a mentor to him. In 1925, Bell introduced Clark to Bernard Berenson, an influential scholar of the Italian Renaissance and consultant to major museums and collectors. Berenson was working on a revision of his book Drawings of the Florentine Painters, and invited Clark to help. The project took two years, overlapping with Clark's studies at Oxford.
In 1929, as a result of his work with Berenson, Clark was chosen to catalogue the extensive collection of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at Windsor Castle. In the same year he was the joint organiser of an exhibition of Italian painting which opened at the Royal Academy on 1 January 1930.
Clark was not convinced that his future lay in administration; nonetheless, when Bell retired in 1931 Clark agreed to succeed him at the Ashmolean. Over the next two years Clark oversaw the building of an extension to the museum to provide a better space for his department.
In 1933 the director of the National Gallery in London, Sir Augustus Daniel, was aged sixty-seven, and due to retire at the end of the year. The job was offered to Clark, he was not enthusiastic. He thought himself too young, aged 30, and once again felt torn between a scholarly and an administrative career.
At about the same time as accepting the offer of the directorship, Clark had declined one from King George V's officials to succeed C. H. Collins Baker as Surveyor of the King's Pictures. He felt that he could not do justice to the post in tandem with his new duties at the gallery. The king, determined to succeed where his staff had failed, went with Queen Mary to the National Gallery and persuaded Clark to change his mind.
The appointment was announced in The London Gazette in July 1934; Clark held the post for the next ten years.
At the National Gallery, Clark was responsible for a collection of about 2,000 paintings: the royal collection numbered 7,000.
The approach of war with Germany in 1939 obliged Clark and his colleagues to consider how to protect the National Gallery's collection from bombing raids. It was agreed that all the works of art must be moved out of central London, where they were acutely vulnerable. One suggestion was to send them to Canada for safekeeping, but Clark was worried about the possibility of submarine attacks on the ships taking the collection across the Atlantic, and he was not displeased when the prime minister, Winston Churchill, vetoed the idea: "Hide them in caves and cellars, but not one picture shall leave this island." A disused slate mine near Blaenau Ffestiniog in north Wales was chosen as the store. In 1945, after overseeing the return of the collections to the National Gallery, Clark resigned as director, intending to devote himself to writing.
In July 1946 Clark was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford for a three-year term. The post required him to give eight public lectures each year "on the History, Theory, and Practice of the Fine Arts". James Stourton, Clark's authorised biographer, judges the appointment to be the most rewarding Clark ever held.
Clark served on numerous official committees during this period, and helped to stage a groundbreaking exhibition in Paris of works by his friend and protégé Henry Moore.
During the war, he had been a prominent member of the state-funded Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. When it was reconstituted as the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1945 he was invited to serve as a member of its executive committee, and as chairman of the council's arts panel. In 1953, he became the Arts Council’s chairman. He held the post until 1960, but he was but a figurehead. And so he turned to other media to fulfil his aims.
Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Henry Moore and Kenneth Clark at Temple Newsam, Leeds in 1941
Broadcasting: administrator, 1954–1957 and Broadcasting: ITV, 1957–1966
The year after becoming chairman of the Arts Council, Clark accepted the chairmanship of the new Independent Television Authority (ITA). It had been set up by the Conservative government to introduce ITV, commercial television, funded by advertising, as a rival to the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Clark was no stranger to broadcasting. He had appeared on air frequently from 1936, when he gave a radio talk on an exhibition of Chinese Art at Burlington House; the following year he made his television debut, presenting Florentine paintings from the National Gallery. During the war he appeared regularly on BBC radio's The Brains Trust.
While presiding over the new ITA he generally kept off the air, and concentrated on keeping the new network going during its difficult early years. By the end of his three-year term as chairman, Clark was hailed as a success, but privately considered that there were too few high-quality programmes on the network. Lew Grade, who as chairman of Associated Television (ATV) held one of the ITV franchises, felt strongly that Clark should make arts programmes of his own, and as soon as Clark stood down as chairman in 1957, he accepted Grade's invitation. Stourton comments, "this was the true beginning of arguably his most successful career – as a presenter of the arts on television".
Last years and death
Clark was chancellor of the University of York from 1967 to 1978 and a trustee of the British Museum. During his last ten years he wrote thirteen books. As well as some drawn from his researches for his lectures and television series, there were two volumes of memoirs, Another Part of the Wood (1974) and The Other Half (1977).
Piper, David. Clark, Kenneth Mackenzie, Baron Clark (1903–1983) - Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
… [these two books are] elegantly and subtly polished, at times very moving, often very funny [but] somewhat distanced, as if about someone else.
In his last years Clark suffered from arteriosclerosis. He died at the age of seventy-nine in a nursing home in Hythe, Kent, after a fall.
I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time. I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology.
Among his books is "the best introduction to the art of Leonardo da Vinci ever written". Other books that have received praise include :
- Landscape into Art (1947) - a study of the development of landscape in art from the earliest times to the present, with first publication in 1949. Clark is interested in what is going on in the minds of artists and why they portray landscape in the way they do. Clark drew on his extensive knowledge of art history traced through the centuries, and wove it into a narrative. The book is developed from a series of lectures.
- Piero della Francesca (1951) – “In my opinion, this is the finest of Kenneth Clark's works, even including "The Nude". It is lucid and readable and all based on first hand study, and the photographs are among the finest that Phaidon ever produced. ….. Clark had a special affinity for Piero della Francesca. .. The discussion of Alberti's theories and the inclusion of some of Piero's Prospettiva Pingendi are important, too. I suppose that more people have read his Leonardo da Vinci, but the Piero is a unique study that has stood the test of time. I must have read it straight through dozens of times for pure pleasure”.
- The Nude: a study in ideal form (1956) - A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, delivered in Washington in 1953
- Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance - 1966 from his Wrightsman lectures in New York
- The annotated catalogue of the royal collection of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings - on which he had begun work in 1929, was published in 1935, to highly favourable reviews; eighty years later Oxford Art Online called it "a work of firm scholarship, the conclusions of which have stood the test of time".
- Civilisation: A Personal View (1969, book version of the television series)
- Another Part of the Wood: A Self-Portrait (1974 )
- The Other Half: A Self-Portrait (1977)
- Moments of Vision - 1954, the Romanes Lecture for 1954
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