Morgan Meis in The New Yorker:

Meis-TheSeductiveBrillianceofKennethClarksCivilisation-690The British art historian Kenneth Clark lived through much of the tumult that the twentieth century had to offer. He was born in London in 1903, and died just before his eightieth birthday—a span that took him from the Edwardian Age to the age of Margaret Thatcher. Clark experienced both World Wars, the collapse of the British Empire, the upheavals of the nineteen-sixties, and, just before he died, the musical duo Wham! Clark weathered all this history, it should be noted, with the help of a not inconsiderable fortune. The money came from a family business, the Clark Thread Company of Paisley, which was founded in the eighteenth century. Clark used this inheritance to become a great aesthete.

His aesthetic life began in earnest with a trip through Italy during a summer break from college, at Oxford, in 1925. In Italy, Clark met Bernard Berenson, the legendary specialist of the Italian Renaissance. Berenson took an immediate liking to Clark, and offered the student a job helping to prepare a new edition of his book “Drawings of the Florentine Painters.” Soon afterward—and thanks partly to his relationship with Berenson—Clark, at just twenty-eight years old, was made keeper (i.e., director) of fine art at Oxford’s venerable Ashmolean Museum. Two years later, he became the director at the National Gallery. Then George V asked Clark to assume the position of Surveyor of the King’s Pictures. Clark declined, at first, and so the King came to see him personally, as James Stourton chronicles in his new biography, “Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation.” The King persuaded Clark to take the job, and in the years to come Clark went on to take several other high-level positions that he believed would advance the cause of art in his country. He helped save the British art collection from the Nazi Blitz, by loading the art into trucks and driving those trucks to caves in the Welsh mountains. He wrote influential books, such as “The Gothic Revival” and “The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form.” Most famously, he recorded dozens of television programs about art.

More here.