Kenneth Mackenzie Clark Introduction

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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Kenneth Mackenzie Clark 1903-1983

(Full name Sir Kenneth Mackenzie Clark) English art historian, critic, and television host.

The following entry provides criticism on Clark's works from 1930 through 1993.

Clark was a famous art historian and critic who devoted his life to promoting and explaining the visual arts to the general public. In 1933 he was appointed director of the National Gallery in London. He later went on to write dozens of books, but is best known for his British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) television series Civilisation (1969), which was seen in 23 countries.

Biographical Information

Clark was born on July 13, 1903, in London, England, as the only child of Kenneth Mackenzie Clark and Margaret Alice MacArthur. Clark's mother cared little for the young boy, leaving him in the care of abusive servants. He adored his father, a wealthy industrial tycoon by inheritance who worked very little, drank very much, hunted, fished and built a new yacht every year. Clark did, however, find his parents to be idle and irresponsible, and he grew up determined to make more of his life. Clark became inspired to be a painter at the age of seven when he visited a small art gallery at a Japanese exhibition with his governess. Clark's father was supportive and encouraged Clark to follow his passion for art. While attending Winchester College, his drawings won contests and he won a history essay writing competition. In 1922, he entered Trinity College, Oxford on a scholarship and earned a degree in Modern History. It was at Oxford that Clark met Elizabeth Winifred (“Jane”) Martin, who would become his first wife. He also realized at Oxford that while he possessed a great appreciation for the arts, he did not have the talent to be an artist. In 1925, Clark took on a two-year apprenticeship with an art historian he greatly respected, Bernard Berenson, to assist with the revision of Berenson's book, Florentine Drawings, in Florence, Italy. By the age of 26, Clark completed his first book on the visual arts, The Gothic Revival (1928). Between 1931 and 1933, Clark served as the keeper of paintings at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In 1933, he became the director of the National Gallery in London and was responsible for finding a safe haven for the national collection of paintings during World War II. Each month he presented one of these paintings to the public to keep the arts alive during a time of despair. During the war, he also served on the Ministry of Information as controller of home publicity and director of the films division. Clark prepared the official catalogue of the Leonardo da Vinci drawings at Windsor Castle and wrote A Catalogue of the Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle (1935). He was also surveyor of the King's Pictures between 1934 and 1944. In 1946, he resigned from the National Gallery to write full time. He also went on to serve as Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford University in Oxford, England from 1946-50 and again from 1961-62 and as Chancellor of the University of York in York, England, from 1969-79. Clark served as Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, and he was the first chairman of the Independent Television Authority. Clark received many awards and honors throughout his lifetime. To name a few, he was created Knight Commander of the Bath in 1938, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, made a Companion of Honor in 1959 and a life peer as Baron of Saltwood in 1969. He gained the Order of Merit in 1976. He was also named a commander of the French Legion of Honor and Knight of the Lion of Finland. Clark was surrounded by famous people, and in his autobiographies drops such names as Pablo Picasso, Edith Sitwell, Vivien Leigh, Winston Churchill, Henry Moore, Lloyd George, and Sir Thomas Beecham. He was a world traveler with an appreciation of all the arts. He was a serious collector of art, possessing famous paintings from artists such as Renoir and Cézanne. Clark's experience and expertise became most well known in 1969 when his television series Civilisation appeared on the BBC network. The program, which he hosted, covered art, music, philosophy, and literature throughout the ages and was rerun in 23 countries over the next several decades. In 1976, Clark's wife, Jane, died leaving Clark behind with their three children, Alan, Rolin and Colette. In 1977, Clark married Nolwen de Janze-Rice. Clark lived with Janze-Rice and continued to write in Saltwood, his castle in England. On May 21, 1983, Clark died after a brief illness in a nursing home in Hythe, England.

Major Works

Clark published his first book, The Gothic Revival, in 1928. The book was about the quality of Gothic architecture and its correlations to the age of industrialism. A few years after preparing the official catalogue of the Leonardo drawings at Windsor Castle, Clark wrote Leonardo da Vinci: An Account of His Development as an Artist (1939) which was very well received. In 1949, Clark published Landscape into Art, a publication of lectures he gave as Slade Professor at Oxford on the subject of landscape painting and how an artist's emotional and intellectual feelings can shape his images. This book was also well received by the critics. His next big book was Piero della Francesca (1951), which covered the life and work of the painter and mathematician. The book included over one hundred and fifty illustrations. The Nude (1956) included four hundred pages of text and three hundred illustrations and presented the nude in European sculpture and painting from Greek figure art to abstract modern art. Many critics considered the book to be enlightening. In 1966, Clark published Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance. In 1969, Civilisation was televised and Clark presented the topic of European art history to the mainstream public in an entertaining format. While the television series was well received, the book by the same name, published in 1969, was praised by many critics, but did not seem to capture the same enthusiasm. In 1974, Clark published Another Part of the Wood: A Self-Portrait, an autobiography of his life up until World War II. The book has been described as charmingly anecdotal and witty. Clark published the second part of his autobiography, The Other Half: A Self-Portrait, in 1977 which, like the first book, revealed a great deal about the art historian, his life experiences and relationships with famous artists, authors, politicians, and actors. It was also well received by critics. Also in 1977, Clark published Animals and Men: Their Relationship as Reflected in Western Art from Prehistory to the Present Day, which covered animal pictures from prehistoric times to almost present times. Part of the proceeds for the book went to the World Wildlife Fund. Some critics described the book as cynical and limited in scope. Clark continued to write and publish books until just before his death in 1983.

Critical Reception

While Clark is known as one of the best art historians of his time, some believed him to be an elitist and a hoax who claimed to be an expert on everything. The majority of this criticism came from the academic side. Clark responded by explaining that his goal was to popularize the arts and make them more understandable to the public. Indeed that is what he did as he wrote at least forty books and traveled around the world lecturing on art history. His books not only included text, but sometimes hundreds of illustrations to better educate the readers.