Kenneth Clark is outstanding from every viewpoint: Its author knows the art world, having been a chairman of Sotheby’s UK, his research draws on every available resource, and he tells us both about Clark’s private life and public career in equally fascinating detail. The chapters on the making of Civilisation are particularly engrossing. All in all, this is one of the best and most enjoyable biographies of the year.
...[a] crisp and authoritative new biography ... He tells Clark’s story with dispassionate grace and wit. His prose is unobtrusive but well tailored. He delivers any number of well-observed set pieces, such as the time Clark visited Andy Warhol’s Manhattan studio and found the art so bogus he had a sneezing fit.
Some of the best chapters in James Stourton’s careful biography discuss the making of this series ... As Stourton shows, some of the criticisms do not stick. Although the programmes concentrated on western Europe, Clark was not blind (as he was charged) to other artistic traditions...But Stourton frankly concedes one glaring omission in Civilisation. This was a 'great man' approach in the most literal sense. Hardly any women got a look-in ... There is little room for independent women in Stourton’s version of Clark’s life. Jane wins his praise early on for her elegance and her dress sense; she was 'a natural and beautiful hostess.' When she doesn’t fit that type, she gets written up as the monstrous, unstable spouse of a long-suffering husband.
Mr. Stourton is a very companionable biographer, learned, eloquent, sympathetic to his subject but no groupie ... a good part of his biography is concerned with the institutional and media features of Clark’s lifework, especially his influence in the television world.
...[a] comprehensive and sympathetic new biography ... on the whole his seems like a very enviable life, pleasant to read about, pleasant to have lived. He enjoyed the high life but escaped its insipidity; he did good for millions and helped art and culture to thrive. Reading Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and 'Civilisation' you can only wish that our own billionaires were as conscientious.
Stourton doesn’t ignore the more colorful elements of Clark’s life, like his upbringing by mismatched eccentrics — eccentric even compared with other Edwardian millionaires — his career as art historian, patron, and collector; his life as a philandering celebrity in ’30s London; or his ubiquitous TV presence in the ’70s. But Stourton’s book really comes alive when discussing Clark’s public service ... the first third of Stourton’s book is a summary of Another Part. As reading matter, it suffers by comparison. Moreover, Stourton fails to give Clark’s father, mother, or wife Jane independent voices ... Stourton’s chapters on Clark’s activities during World War II are the high point of the book. He gives a better account than Clark himself.