Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM CH KCB, (July 13, 1903 – May 21, 1983) was an English author, museum director, broadcaster, and the most famous art historian of his generation.
Sir Kenneth was born in London, the only child of Kenneth MacKenzie Clark and Margaret Alice, a wealthy Scottish family with roots in the textile trade (the "Clark" in Coats & Clark threading). Sir Kenneth's 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).
The younger 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.
An admirer of Ruskin and a protégé of the most influential art critic of the time, Bernard Berenson, Sir Kenneth 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 Sir Kenneth 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.
An indefatigable lecturer in both academic and broadcast settings, Sir Kenneth'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 1966 he wrote and produced Civilisation for BBC television, a series on the history of Western civilisation as seen through its art. When it was broadcast on PBS in 1969, Civilisation was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, catapulting Sir Kenneth to international fame. According to Sir Kenneth, the series was created in answer to the growing criticism of Western Civilisation, from its value system to its heroes.
A self-described "hero-worshipper", Sir Kenneth proved to be an ardent pro-individualist, Humanist, anti-marxist and anti-elitist. His comments on the subject of 1960's 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." - Sir Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, Episode 12.
Sir Kenneth 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, Sir Kenneth 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, Sir Kenneth was able in a dignified and respectful manner, to illustrate his differences along with effectively expressing his praise.
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. Both her first husband and her father were wealthy landowners. Lord Clark died in Hythe after a short illness in 1983.
His elder son, Alan Clark, became a prominent Conservative MP and was a writer-historian.
Sir Kenneth continues to be a source of inspiration for many contemporary artists, historians and television producers.
In Episode 37 of the television series Monty Python's Flying Circus, Sir Kenneth 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.
|Preceded by |
Sir Augustus Daniel
|Director of the National Gallery |
|Succeeded by |
Sir Philip Hendy
|Preceded by |
|Chair of the Arts Council of Great Britain |
|Succeeded by |
|Preceded by |
|Chairman of the Independent Television Authority |
|Succeeded by |
Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick