A biography of a brilliant polymath –– director of the National Gallery, author, patron of the arts, social lion, and singular pioneer of television –– that also tells the story of the arts in the twentieth century through his astonishing life.
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.