Kenneth Mackenzie Clark

Start Your Free Trial

Download Kenneth Mackenzie Clark Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(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...

(The entire section is 1,232 words.)