Kenneth Clark at Tate Britain: the great panjandrum

960w, http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kennethclark-300x168.jpg 300w, http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kennethclark-97x55.jpg 97w" sizes="(max-width: 960px) 100vw, 960px" />Edward Lucie-Smith discovers that their tribute to Kenneth Clark is not as complimentary

as the
Tate thinks it is

The Tate

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Britain show devoted to Sir Kenneth Clark – ‘Lord Clark of Civilisation’, as he came to be called – was a slightly strange phenomenon. It defined a whole tract of the recent history of
the visual arts here in Britain, but
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in the end fell short of being a genuine celebration. Going round it, examining what was on google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; view, one noted how much things have changed. And at the same time, how much they haven’t.

Clark’s career can be thought of as making a bridge between Roger Fry and the Bloomsberries on the one hand

and the achievements (and failings) of Sir Nicholas Serota on the other. Brought up src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> in what seems to have been gilded solitude – the only child of a very rich man whom the Tate catalogue describes as an idler – he was the
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privileged inhabitant of
a variety of different but related social worlds.

His ascent through the pre-war

British art world, also through at least one major tribe of the international art world, was extremely rapid. From the circle google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; surrounding Roger Fry he
passed, with remarkable ease, into that surrounding Bernard //--> Berenson at I Tatti on the outskirts of Florence. The famously

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formidable Berenson asked Clark, who was still in his early twenties, to work on a new edition of his celebrated catalogue of
drawings by Florentine painters,

​ first

published in 1903, the year of Clark’s birth.

The Tate catalogue makes some significant remarks about this, worth quoting here at some length, though with a bit of necessary compression: “The time Clark spent at I Tatti with Berenson was an education in a very google_ad_width = 970; different approach to art: that of connoisseurship. Having an ‘eye’ meant the ability to discern on the basis of simply looking at

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a work, who might have made it and when… Attribution was a gentleman’s sport,

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and for Clark

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it seemed at the time ‘the only game worth playing’. Not, he was careful to add, for the money,
but for the glory of having an eye and being right.”

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in the context of what was actually on view at the Tate, this paragraph made a very peculiar effect. True, Clark at this period wrote an authoritative catalogue of the Leonardo drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor. As the Tate catalogue rather smugly remarks: “[It] remains unsurpassed (if in a quite specialised genre). And many of his identifications, both attributions and de-attributions, as well as datings of the drawings, have google_ad_height = 90; stood the test of time.” Two genuine Leonardo drawings, plus a non-Leonardo with the same provenance,

much of it by the time he reached old age. I met him once, in his last years, to do an interview about Graham Sutherland, one of the British artists who benefited from his support and patronage. He was then living in a spacious but curiously characterless bungalow built at the gates of Saltwood Castle, which had been handed over to his son
Alan. The Seurat
was not on a wall, but was propped up on the floor of a cloakroom where I went to pee. It was fairly obvious that nobody loved it or bothered to look at it.

There were some good things in Clark’s possession, notably a group of paintings and drawings by Cézanne that he had the

Gallery during the src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> war years he saw to the safety of the collection and yet kept the

by bombing. He brought a group of leading British

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artists together – prominent among them Henry Moore, John Piper and Graham Sutherland – who seemed to express some kind of national essence.  During the war they made works that successfully heroised and commemorated
the national ordeal, drawing on pre-Modernist roots in the English Romantic tradition. This development did a great deal to reconcile a previously sceptical middle-class public to the ideas and theories

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of the 20th century Modern Movement.

 

Above all, he wrote books that communicated ideas and theories about art in clear, non-specialist terms– The Nude and Landscape into Art are cases in point. And he engaged with the new mass medium of television.

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The Nude, with its crucial distinction between ‘the naked’ and ‘the nude’, remains influential today, though it was published as long ago as 1956. Some scholar needs perhaps to go through it now, and calibrate what it says with the rise of Pop Art, where representations of the nude play no inconsiderable a part. Are Pop nudes ‘ideal forms’? In a way, yes,

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they are. Come to

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think of it the sugar sweet Renoir nude that Clark once owned /* xin-1 */ takes

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on a different inflection if one examines it in the light cast by the Pop movement.

Most of all, Clark

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embraced the new medium of television. The marriage google_ad_slot = "8637400688"; was at first sight a curious one. While being obviously at ease in front of the camera, he lost no trace of his grandee manner. In fact, it qualified him to tell us what he was confident we didn’t know.

Looked at now, Clark’s conception of ‘Civilisation’ seems limited. It

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is essentially Western, though he had an early taste for Japanese art – Japanese prints were almost the first things he collected. google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; André Malraux’s concept of an ‘imaginary museum’ or ‘museum without walls’, embracing all visual cultures, was first presented to the public in 1947. Clark’s Civilisation series began transmission as late as google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; 1969, a whole generation after that.

It is possible to see Civilisation as a very successful attempt made by the then existing establishment to retain control of the cultural narrative. A similar sort of attempt, though with somewhat less success, is currently being made by the collective of Tate galleries. One is the very space where the exhibition devoted to Clark took place.

Something that has changed quite radically since the reign src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> of Clark is the way in which ideas about art – indeed ideas about everything – are communicated. Television centralised communication, but its period

of google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; total domination was remarkably short. The Internet has instigated a rapid devolution, a change from the