File:Kenneth clark historian.jpg

Kenneth McKenzie Clark, The Lord 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 of his generation. In 1969, he achieved an international popular presence as the writer, producer, and presenter of the BBC Television series, Civilisation.


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. 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. 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 Advisory Committee, he persuaded the government not to conscript artists thus ensuring that Moore found work. 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 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 presented Civilisation for BBC television, a series on the history of Western civilisation as seen through its art. Also broadcast 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 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.[1]

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.

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 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 aged 79 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 and celebrated diarist.


  • "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 civilisation. 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, civilising the deepest impulses of ordinary, ignorant people."
  • "The stabilising, comprehensive religions of the world, the religions which penetrate to every part of a man's being--in Egypt, India or China--gave the female principle of creation at least as much importance as the male, and wouldn't have taken seriously a philosophy that failed to include them both...It's a curious fact that the all-male religions have produced no religious imagery--in most cases have positively forbidden it. The great religious art of the world is deeply involved with the female principle."
  • " I cannot distinguish between thought and feeling, and I am convinced that a combination of words and music, colour and movement can extend human experience in a way that words alone cannot do. For this reason I believe in television as a medium,...". Civilisation: A Personal View (1969) p xv.

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.
  • 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: 12 May 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 civilisation collapses, sums up with "Eat your heart out, Lord Clark."

Styles 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 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)


  1. The Irish Times, "Controversy is indication of RTÉ's success, says minister", December 11, 1970
  2. See also H2G2 website:[1]


External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Sir Augustus Daniel
Director of the National Gallery
Succeeded by
Sir Philip Hendy
Preceded by
Ernest Pooley
Chair of the Arts Council of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Lord Cottesloe
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir 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
Preceded by
New office
Chairman of the Independent Television Authority
Succeeded by
Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick
bg:Кенет Кларк

eo:Kenneth Clarkla:Kenneth Clarksv:Kenneth Clark tr:Kenneth Clark

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