Kenneth Clark Biography

Kenneth Clark, a British art historian, museum director, author, and TV broadcaster, was a revered figure in the British cultural scene. Known for his promotion of Italian Renaissance art, he made significant contributions to the field. As the youngest director of London’s ‘National Gallery,’ he implemented changes and established government patronage of the arts. Despite the challenges of World War II, Clark kept the gallery open, ensuring the public remained connected to arts and literature. Later, he made a surprising transition to TV and became a celebrated broadcaster, gaining international prominence for his TV series ‘Civilisation.’ His writings, including ‘Landscape into Art’ and ‘The Nude,’ further solidified his influence on Western culture.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In July
  • Also Known As: Kenneth Mackenzie Clark, Baron Clark
  • Died At Age: 79
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Elizabeth Winifred Clark (m. 1927–1976), Nolwen de Janzé (m. 1977–1983)
    • Father: Kenneth MacKenzie Clark
    • Mother: Margaret Alice McArthur
    • Children: Alan Clark, Colette Clark, Colin Clark
  • Born Country: England
  • Historians
  • Non-Fiction Writers
  • Died on: May 21, 1983
  • Place of death: Hythe, England
  • City: London, England
  • Diseases & Disabilities: Arteriosclerosis
  • Education: Trinity College, Oxford, Winchester College

Childhood & Early Life

Kenneth Mackenzie Clark was born on July 13, 1903, in London, England. He was the only child of wealthy parents Kenneth MacKenzie Clark and Margaret Alice McArthur. Despite growing up in a privileged environment, Clark spent much of his childhood and adolescence in solitude. It was during this time that he developed a passion for the arts. He showed exceptional talent in painting from a young age and won several prizes while in school. His first exposure to art came at the age of 7 when he attended an exhibition of Japanese art. Clark attended Wixenford School and later Winchester College. At Oxford University, he studied modern history and graduated with a second-class honors degree in 1925. During his time at Oxford, he became deeply interested in French art under the influence of art critic Roger Fry.


After graduating from Oxford, Clark was introduced to art historian Bernard Berenson, who he eventually worked for in Italy. He assisted Berenson in revising his book “Drawings of the Florentine Painters.” Clark’s first published book, “The Gothic Revival,” was released in 1928. He succeeded Charles F. Bell as the keeper of the Fine Art Department at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University. Clark’s name was recommended for the position of director of London’s National Gallery, and he became the youngest director of the gallery. He worked extensively to expand the collection of European paintings and introduced innovations such as electric lighting and evening shows. Clark’s scholarly masterpiece, a catalogue of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings at Windsor Castle, was published in 1935. He also began giving lectures and appearing on radio and television shows, discussing various art-related topics.

During World War II, Clark transported the gallery’s paintings to caves in Wales to protect them from bombing raids. He also organized public events such as luncheons and evening concerts. After the war, Clark resigned from his directorship at the National Gallery to focus on his writing. He served as the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford from 1946 to 1950 and later from 1961 to 1962. Clark also played a significant role in promoting art on a large scale, serving as the chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1953 to 1960. He continued to write and lecture on art, particularly on John Ruskin.

In 1954, Clark became the first chairman of the Independent Television Authority (ITA) and hosted a series of programs for ITV. He later joined the BBC and wrote and narrated the series “Civilisation,” which aired in 1969 and brought him international fame. Clark’s TV career continued with shows about Rembrandt and pioneers of modern painting. He served as the chancellor of the University of York from 1967 to 1978 and as a British Museum trustee. In the final decade of his life, Clark wrote several books based on his research and conducted lectures and TV series. He received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to British and Italian art.

Family, Personal Life & Death

Clark was married to Elizabeth “Jane” Winifred Martin from 1927 until her death in 1976. They had three children together. Despite a tumultuous marriage, Clark and Jane remained devoted to each other. After Jane’s death, Clark married Nolwen de Janzé-Rice in 1977. Clark suffered from arteriosclerosis and died on May 21, 1983, after a short illness resulting from a fall.

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