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Saturday, July 7, 2012

KENNETH CLARK: THE AUTHORIZED VIEW



Kenneth Clark: the authorised view
Chairman of Sotheby’s UK to write long-awaited life of the grandest of grandees

By Gareth Harris. News, Issue 236, June 2012
Published online: 18 June 2012

The chairman of Sotheby’s UK has signed a publishing deal to write the authorised biography of the late Kenneth Clark, the former director of the National Gallery in London and a towering figure of 20th-century British cultural life, in one of the most anticipated art historical projects in recent years.

“The Clark biography is a magnificent project and I believe that his life will tell the story of the arts in the 20th century,” says James Stourton, who is leaving his post at Sotheby’s later this year to embark on the project. Approved by the Clark estate, the book is due to be published in 2016 by Harper Collins.

The book will be the first official biography on Clark, who died in 1983. The UK publisher John Murray commissioned the Oxford University scholar Fram Dinshaw in the 1990s to produce an official biography, which has not yet materialised.

Clark was, as Stourton says, the “grandest of grandees in the art world”. After serving as the keeper of fine art at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum (1931-34), Clark was appointed the youngest director of the National Gallery in 1934 at the age of 31. At the heart of London’s intelligentsia, he presided over a circle of royals, artists and academics.

After the Second World War, he helped launch what became the Arts Council, but his 1969 documentary “Civilisation: a Personal View by Kenneth Clark” is considered his most far-reaching achievement. Criticised by some at the time for elitism, the 13-part series, which traced the history of Western art and philosophy, is now credited with bringing art to the masses.

From 1939 until 1945 Clark was the chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. Stourton believes that this period was a turning point for Clark. “Of enormous interest is the change that took place in Clark during the war and the early 1950s—the transition from the rich young man on the side of the [National Gallery] trustees to the emerging communicator who had such a profound effect on arts policy in the post-war era. The war changed Clark. He began to think about how the arts might be marshalled for the common good.”


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