Kenneth Clark

This article is about the art historian. For other persons with similar names, see Kenneth Clark (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
The Lord Clark

Clark in the library at Osterley Park, presenting the BBC TV series Civilisation
Born Kenneth McKenzie Clark
(1903-07-13)13 July 1903
London, England
Died 21 May 1983(1983-05-21) (aged 79)
Hythe, Kent, England
Alma mater Trinity College, Oxford
Occupation Author, broadcaster, art historian
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Jane Martin (m. 1927; d. 1976)
Nolwen de Janzé-Rice (m. 1977; d. 1989)

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 and the daughter of Dr. Emily Winifred Dickson, first Fellow of the College of surgeons. 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. Afterwards Clark was persuaded to write a book version of Civilisation but lamented that without the visual and musical accompaniment it was weak. 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 . 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.[10]

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.[11][12][13]


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


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 fellow Old Wykehamist, Anthony Smith.[14][15]



  1. Secrest, Meryle (1984). Kenneth Clark: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. p. 6.
  2. Secrest, p. 31.
  3. Secrest, pp. 180-181.
  4. Morgan, D. (2005) The Australian Miscellany, p. 142. Bantam: Sydney. ISBN 1 86325 537 0.
  5. Retrieved 20 May 2014
  6. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 73. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  7. The Irish Times, "Controversy is indication of RTÉ's success, says minister", 11 December 1970
  8. Finding aid for the George Trescher records related to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial, 1949, 1960-1971 (bulk 1967-1970). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  9. Miranda Carter, The Daily Telegraph, 28 June 2003, "A civilising influence"
  10. Ceremonies, UK: University of Bath.
  14. "Kenneth Clark Prize". Winchester College. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  15. "Kenneth Clark Prize Final". Winchester College. Retrieved 30 October 2016.

Further reading

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Kenneth Clark
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
Academic offices
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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