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Looking for Civilisation: Exhibition at Tate Britain explores the career and impact of Kenneth Clark
Installation view at Tate Britain with: Paul Nash, Battle of Britain 1941© Imperial War Museums. Photo:Tate Photography.


LONDON.- The career and impact of Kenneth Clark (1903–1983), one of the most influential figures in British art, is explored in Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation at Tate Britain. The exhibition shows how one single figure helped shape the course of British art. It looks at Clark’s role as patron, collector, art historian, impresario, and broadcaster – a man who sought to bring art to a mass audience.

The exhibition features over 270 objects from works by the artists that Clark championed to those from his own eclectic collection, many of which are rarely on public display. Highlights include drawings by Leonardo da Vinci from the Royal Collection, Samuel Palmer’s A Cornfield by Moonlight with the Evening Star, c.1830, Paul Cézanne’s Le Chateau Noir c.1904, Edgar Degas’ Dancer looking at the sole of her foot 1900, cast 1928; and Lucian Freud’s Balcony Still Life 1951.

A major focus of the exhibition is Clark’s patronage and support of contemporary British art.

He championed the Bloomsbury Group, the painters of the Euston Road School, and especially leading figures of the day such as Henry Moore, Victor Pasmore, John Piper and Graham Sutherland. He used his own wealth to help artists, buying works from those he admired and providing financial support, offering commissions and working to ensure their art entered prestigious collections.

From the outbreak of war in 1939, Clark’s private patronage became a state project through his instigation of several initiatives including the War Artists Advisory Committee. Employing artists to record the war, he commissioned such iconic works as Moore’s Shelter Drawings and Sutherland’s and Piper’s images of the Blitz. Through his activities art became a more visible part of British life and so he enabled artists like Moore and Sutherland to become household names.

The exhibition considers Kenneth Clark as a great populariser. His belief in the social value of art and in everybody’s right of access to it anticipated much of today’s museum culture. As the National Gallery’s youngest ever director, at the age of 30, he challenged the idea of the museum and made it more audience-focused. He became perhaps the first great star of documentary television through his landmark series Civilisation 1969, a series which has influenced arts documentary-making to this day. Clips from this series will be included in the exhibition, as well as extracts from a number of rare TV broadcasts he made in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Clark’s vital support for living artists is explored in the context of his own extraordinary and eclectic collection of fine and decorative art. He described his collection as the diary of his life, accumulating works from Ancient Rome and Tang Dynasty China, ceramics from the Far East and Renaissance Italy, paintings and sculpture by Impressionist masters like George Seurat and Paul Cézanne, by whom he had over fifty drawings; works by Giovanni Bellini and other Renaissance artists; and paintings by such English masters as John Constable.

Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation is curated by Chris Stephens, Curator (Modern British Art) & Head of Displays, Tate Britain, and John-Paul Stonard, art historian, with John Wyver, University of Westminster, and Inga Fraser, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain.





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