Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation
20 May – 10 August 2014
Exploring Clark's role as an influential patron, collector, art historian, public servant and broadcaster.
Kenneth Clark is credited with making art popular among mass audiences during the 20th century. As the youngest and most controversial director of the National Gallery (age 30) and founding board member and chairman of the Arts Council, he championed the social importance of art and everybody's right of access to it. It was this kind of thinking that paved the way for the democratic culture that lays at the heart of many museums and galleries today.
Clark was a keen collector and supporter of British contemporary artists, especially the Bloomsbury Group, the painters of the Euston Road School and prominent figures such as Henry Moore, Victor Pasmore, John Piper and Graham Sutherland. Using his own wealth, Clark would not only buy their pieces and offer commissions, but also provide financial support that allowed them to work freely, as well as ensuring their art entered into prestigious collections.
Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Clark instigated several state projects including the War Artists Advisory Committee. Asking artists to help record the war, he was responsible for commissioning Moore's Shelter Drawings and images of the Blitz by both Sutherland and Piper, among other iconic works.
Here around 200 items celebrate Clark's influence on 20th century British visual art. As well as the artists he personally admired and supported, the display features items from his personal collection, such as drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, prints by Hokusai and paintings by Constable, Degas, Seurat and Cézanne. There are also examples from his eclectic archive of fine and decorative art, which includes pieces from Ancient Rome, Egypt and Tang Dynasty China.
Clark is often considered as the first great star of documentary television. Clips from his landmark series Civilisation - which still influences arts documentary-making - are included in the exhibition, as are extracts from a number of rare TV broadcasts he made in the late 1950s and 1960s.