I have thought many times in recent weeks of the two occasions when I met Kenneth Clark. The first must have been in 1981 when we were invited to stay by friends in a small pavilion at Parfondeval in the farming hinterland outside Dieppe. As we were having a drink in the evening, I looked across the lawn and saw a familiar figure sitting on the terrace of the chateau in a bath chair. It was Kenneth Clark. He and his second wife Nolwen lived in the other pavilion. A plan was hatched that I might look at the many lectures he had given on the subject of modern art and not long afterwards I visited them in their bungalow in the grounds of Saltwood Castle. There in an old steel filing cabinet was an array of lectures he had given in the 1930s. I still regret not having taken up the suggestion of publishing them. I handed over the task to Nick Coker who died not long after Clark himself. We remained friends of Nolwen and went to concerts with her at the Barbican where she encouraged us to eat ginger biscuits.
This morning I went to an early morning viewing of the Kenneth Clark exhibition at Tate Britain. There he was, the great aesthete, in the portrait by Graham Sutherland, open necked and slightly dandified, also being painted on the banks of the river Alde by Charles Sims, who was dressed in a Homburg hat and spats. Clark’s taste in early Italian art is revealed as less sure than expected, including some duds he bought for the National Gallery, whilst his taste in artists of his own time was wide ranging and confident, buying work from Henry Moore’s first exhibition, by illustrators like Ardizzone and fine work by Victor Pasmore and Graham Bell (Anne Olivier Bell is described on a label as Bell’s ‘friend’, but she was also his fiancée and lover). He supported the young Lucian Freud with a grant of £500. Throughout one hears recordings of Dame Myra Hess playing at the National Gallery during the second world war.