Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and 'Civilisation' by James Stourton - review by Kevin Jackson

Kevin Jackson

Civilising Influence

Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and 'Civilisation'


William Collins 478pp £30 order from our bookshop

Lord Clark did not want for detractors. Plenty of people found him chilly, arrogant, complacent and self-deceived. Some of his fellow art historians thought him unscholarly and superficial (and others thought him first-rate). In later life he was a chronic adulterer and he could be a rude, difficult colleague. Even his most famous achievement, the television series Civilisation, infuriated many viewers with its robustly traditional faith in the transcendental value of art and the mystery of genius – or simply with its unembarrassed poshness. And so on.

There’s no smoke without at least a few flickers of fire, to be sure, and yet James Stourton’s admirable and admiring biography of Kenneth Clark makes a compelling case not only for Clark’s intellectual brilliance but also for his essential benevolence. His demeanour may have been unfashionably patrician, but his

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