Caspar Purdon Clarke

I have been reading about Caspar Purdon Clarke, the fourth Director of the V&A, who took over from John Henry Middleton in 1896 and left in 1905 to become – unsuccessfully – the Director of the Metropolitan Museum.

I hadn’t realised that he began life as a student of the National Art Training School in South Kensington before joining the Office of Works as an architect, working on the Houses of Parliament before transferring to the Works Department of the South Kensington Museum and travelling to Egypt to help on the construction of James Wild’s Church of St. Mark in Alexandria. In June 1874, he went as Superintendent of Works on the Legation in Teheran, where he was able to act as an agent for the acquisition of Persian objects for Christopher Dresser and recommending the creation of plaster reliefs of the Achaemenid stone reliefs at Persepolis. In 1876, he applied for a post as Assistant Keeper, but was turned down. It was only in 1883 that he became Keeper of the Indian Museum, transferring to the art collections in 1892.

He was interested in inherited design traditions and how they are passed down within the building profession through practice and word-of-mouth (this was part of the philosophy of the National Art Trining School), which, not surprisingly, made him a popular figure as a Freemason on both sides of the Atlantic.


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