THE OTHER HALF: A Self-Portrait by Kenneth Clark

THE OTHER HALF: A Self-Portrait

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The second volume of Kenneth Clark's memoirs finds him lecturing to packed houses at Oxford, chaffing national committees for the arts, lunching regularly at the Louvre, winning an ovation in Washington--and, withal, self-conscious, defensive, intensely and painfully vulnerable. ""In the clays before Civilization,"" he was introduced, he notes, ""as the man who saved the nation's pictures during the war."" His disclaimer of credit--for daringly, perilously relocating the National-Gallery treasures deep in a Welsh cave--is, in reality, incidental: he no more wished to be known for this feat than, later, for his television triumph. But, after his mostly ""inglorious war"" (he'll lay claim only to saying ""every day"" to Myra Hess' proposal of noontime concerts at the empty N.G.), what was the early bloomer of Another Part of the Wood to do or to be? At this point the book splinters into the various facets of Clark's career, submerging its central figure, symptomatically, in a welter of culture-spreading activity. He gives lectures and turns them into books, or vice versa, first before audiences (Landscape into Art, The Nude), then on TV (The Romantic Rebellion, Rembrandt); visits, advises, observes, confers (finding India distressing, Japan oppressive); helps mightily to establish the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and launch commercial television as a counterweight (adding ""some element of vital vulgarity"") to the staid BBC; and, stepping down as chairman, signs on as a performer. ""My overwhelming need was to communicate my feelings about works of art in words,"" he recognized early on, ruling out administration or ""plodding"" research. But the outcome was a kind of popular success that he himself--revering the scholarship of a Popham, the commitment of a Roger Fry--could not fully respect. What he seems not to realize (with his discomfiture about ""dropping names,"" his embarrassment and regrets) is that in living well, he did well. There's a brighter Clark biography to be written--by a beneficiary of his generosity, his enthusiasm, his stylishness and wit.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row