Papers of Kenneth Clark

Scope and Content

Kenneth Clark was Keeper of the Ashmolean and Director of the National Gallery, a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a collector and patron. This collection consists mainly of the professional papers relating to his work as an art historian and writer, but includes material relating to his work as a public servant, an administrator and in other roles during the Second World War. It contains correspondence, subject files, writings, source material, photographs, press cuttings and printed ephemera

Administrative / Biographical History

Kenneth McKenzie Clark was born on 13 July 1903, to a family who made their fortune in the Glasgow cotton trade. Clark described his parents as 'idle rich', moving between their country house in Suffolk, their home and yacht in Scotland and the South of France. An only child, he was sent away to Wixenford School, from where he went to Winchester College from 1917 to 1922. He gained a scholarship to read 'Greats' at Trinity College, Oxford, and it was here that he began to fully develop the artistic eye which had been nurtured by rearranging his parents' picture collection and by the exhibition of Japanese art in London in 1910. At Oxford, Clark made many of the friends he was to keep throughout his life, including Maurice Bowra, Colin Anderson and Gordon Waterfield. He also began to collect original works of art, managing to buy cheaply works from Old Master drawings and pictures by then unknown, or unfashionable, artists. He began to help out at the Ashmolean Museum, and was befriended by the Keeper, Charles Bell. In 1925, during a visit to Italy, Bell introduced him to the art connoisseur Bernard Berenson at his house,I Tatti, near Florence. Clark made an impression on Berenson, who invited him to work for him on the revisions of his 'Florentine Painters'. After a struggle with his parents, who insisted on him finishing his degree, the arrangements were made for Clark to join Berenson. In the meantime Clark spent the summer of 1926 travelling in Europe and seeing the great collections in pre-war Germany, where at Berenson's instruction he learnt German. In 1927 Clark married Elizabeth Jane Martin, known as Jane (or Betty to her family), a fellow student at Oxford. They were introduced by Gordon Waterfield, her then fiancé. In 1928 their first son, Alan, was born, followed by the twins, Colin and Colette (known as Celly). There were plans for more work with Berenson, but in 1930 Clark was offered the position of Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, to succeed Bell. Although he had little museum experience, Clark had made a name for himself, in particular through his work on the Royal Academy's exhibition of Italian art, a major exhibition of 1930, and was already working on the Leonardo drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (eventually published in 1935). It was an unprecendented appointment, which damaged forever his friendship with Bell. Berenson urged Clark not to go into curatorship, but to concentrate on writing, but Clark accepted the position. His activities at the museum included the reorganisation of the collection and the notable acquisition of Piero di Cosimo's 'Forest Fire'. In 1933 Clark was offered the post of Director of the National Gallery. He was only thirty years old when he began to work there in 1934. The Clarks were launched into a whirl of public and social activity: they became the toast of London society and were constantly in the newspapers. 1934 also saw Clark's appointment as surveyor of the King's pictures. Clark's reign at the National Gallery was not without problems. In the first year he acquired seven panels, believed to be by Sassetta, in somewhat dubious circumstances from Duveen, an art dealer and National Gallery Trustee. Another controversy was the acquisition of four panels which Clark originally believed to be by Giorgione, although the Trustees acquired them as 'Giorgionesque'. Other problems included an appearance before the Committee for Public Accounts. The outbreak of war in 1939 changed the Clarks' life. Jane and the children moved to Upton House, Tetbury, Gloucestershire, where they had many guests including Graham and Kathleen Sutherland. Clark stayed in London, where his flat in Grays Inn was bombed in 1940, destroying many of his early papers. After the evacuation of the National Gallery's pictures to the mines of Manod, Wales, he was less involved with Gallery work than with his secondment to the Ministry of Information. Clark joined the Ministry in 1939. He was first Director of the Films Division, then Controller of Home Publicity until 1941. Clark found the work interesting, but the bureaucratic machinery and rivalries in the Ministry wearying. He was involved in some interesting work including propaganda and public information films, however, the cream of his work there was the War Artists' Advisory Committee. Clark was chairman of the Committee and it was a role he felt very useful in, although he was unable to help as many artists as he would have liked. Artists were selected to carry out work for the armed forces and Clark often acted as a mediator, for sometimes it was hard to reconcile the artists interests and desire to experiment, with what might be very conventional and specific requirements. The Committee met from 1939-1945, then faced the problem of dispersing the thousands of works created. At the end of 1945 Clark resigned from the National Gallery as soon as he decently could. Contrary to popular belief he did not have another post to go to: he simply wanted to concentrate on his writing. However, he was soon invited to be Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University, a post he held from 1947-1950. Over the winter of 1948-9 Clark embarked on a trip to Australia. He found the country stimulating and made contacts with both art administrators and artists, including Joseph Burke and Sydney Nolan. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Clark spent much of his time writing and lecturing. He was always inundated with invitations to lecture and he accepted many. His books sold well and he became enormously popular in America. In 1953 he was appointed Chairman of the Arts Council, a post he held until 1960. Clark had been involved in radio broadcasting since the 1930s. As well as art based programmes, he often appeared as a"'celebrity guest" on more general programmes. He was a regular panelist in the early days of the Brains Trust. With the development of television, Clark extended his broadcasting by bringing art images into thousands of homes. However, public reaction was mixed when he agreed to be Chariman of the new Independent Television Association in 1954. In the 1950s Clark became further involved with independent television production companies and began to work with his son Colin, a producer. The subject area of his material remained wide, but perhaps the culmination of his TV work was the 1969 series 'Civilisation'. This brought Clark worldwide fame and he became popularly known as 'Lord Clark of Civilisation'. In 1953 the Clarks moved from Upper Terrace House, Hampstead, to Saltwood Castle in Kent (to which Thomas à Becket's murderers had fled from the scene of their crime in Canterbury Cathedral). The Clarks kept a small flat in Albany, Piccadilly and Clark had a secretary in both residences. However, as the Clarks grew older the Castle became too much for them and they built The Garden House at the edge of the grounds, where they moved, while Alan, their son, moved into the Castle. In 1976 Jane, who had been intermittently ill for many years, died. Clark remarried in 1977, Nolwen de Janze Rice, who was French and owned an estate in Normandy. Clark continued to write and lecture on a smaller scale almost to the end. He died in 1983.


The papers fall into several distinct series and, where possible, these have been left intact. The series are as follows:

TGA 8812/1 Correspondence

TGA 8812/2 Writings

TGA 8812/3 Artwork

TGA 8812/4 Personal papers

TGA 8812/5 Miscellaneous and photographs

TGA 8812/6 Printed material and ephemera

TGA 8812/7 Reproductions

TGA 8812/8 Press cuttings

The largest series are the correspondence and files (TGA 8812/1) and the writings (TGA 8812/2)

Access Information

Open. Access to all registered researchers

Other Finding Aids

Paper list available

Related Material

150 letters from Clark to Bernard and Mary Berenson, Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; correspondence between Clark and Sir Sydney Cockerell, British Library Manuscripts Collection; correspondence between Clark and Sir Julian Huxley, Rice University Woodson Research Center; and letters from Clark to DS MacColl, Glasgow University Library Special Collections Department.