Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation

This exhibition, which is coming to an end on Sunday (10th August), celebrates arguably one of the greatest art experts of all time: Kenneth Clark. Although, Clark is not reluctant to state that he often does not understand Picasso! 

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Kenneth Clark in front of Renoir’s La Baigneuse Blonde, c.1933. Private collection. Image source.

Clark was not only an art historian: he was also a collector, broadcaster, and former director of the National Gallery. The collection itself is overwhelming, not only does it include Da Vinci sketches, Cézanne, Renoir and a Rodin, but also a vast amount of Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. 

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Auguste Rodin, Eve, 1881. Private Collection. Photo: Marcus Leith & Andrew Dunkley/Tate Photography. Image source.

As a strong believer in contemporary art throughout the 20th century, Clark found himself as a patron for many artists, such as Moore and Sutherland. As Clark himself states: “I have often thought that ideally it needs two people to make a picture: one to commission it and the other to carry it out”. As a result the exhibition includes a huge collection of British work, especially from the wartime.

Although the exhibition is essentially celebrating one man’s taste, that is not to say it is limited. In one room you may stumble upon the abstract female nudes of Cézanne’s bathers, whilst in another you are stopped by the colour of a castle on fire by John Piper (Seaton Delaval, 1941). Piper described the castle’s colouring as ‘ochre and flame licked red, pock-marked and stained… incredibly up-to-date: very much of our times’.

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John Piper, Seaton Delaval, 1941. Tate, presented by Sir Kenneth Clark (later Lord Clark of Saltwood) through the Contemporary Art Society 1946. Image source.

By the end of the exhibition you are able to meet Clark through his famous documentaries, including the hugely recognised Civilisation. Here is the opening of the first episode of the 13-part series.

If you haven’t already, make sure you visit the exhibition at Tate Britain this weekend!