A trip to London in the middle of Paris fashion week might seem strange
but I really needed a break, and London’s Tate Britain, the oldest of all the Tate venues, was a perfect destination.  Until 2000, when the Tate Modern was opened and a fast boat along the River Thames connected the two museums,  “The Tate” was the exclusive home for British art from the renaissance through to its modern collections.
Now there are four – Liverpool, St. Ives, Modern – and Tate Britain where
I spent most of my day.

The founder, Sir Henry Tate, would have been impressed by the renovation unveiled last November. The 45 million pound transformation by architects Peter St John and
Adam Caruso of the XIXth century building includes this striking spiral staircase giving greater public access to the spaces below. It is a real beauty.

This exhibition explores the impact of Sir Kenneth Clark – patron, collector, art historian – and his amazing contribution to the 20th century in supporting contemporary British art and artists, and making them known to a wider audience.  My favorite quote from Clark – “Ideally it needs two people to make a picture: one to commission it and the other to carry it out”
And it takes study, and attention to detail, to be good at either making art or buying it.  This working together is getting lost these days in the collecting frenzy in the art world.

A TV series “Civilization: A personal view by Kenneth Clark”, was produced by the BBC in 1969.  The production was a three year project, using locations in eleven countries. One of the first television documentaries, it taught everyone about the history of art and architecture from the dark ages to the present.  That one man’s understanding of history and the role of art in civilization could be presented like this has never had an equivalent.

Here, one of my favorite pieces at the exhibition by British artist Ben Nicholson, White Relief, 1934.  Clark had been one of the first people to buy one of Nicholson reliefs.
Hand-carved from wood panels and painted with coats and coats of white paint, even if he was suspicious of abstract art, Clark could see in this work the strength of great art.

Nicholson shared his studio and his life with Barbara Hepworth. It  is now recognized that Hepworth’s sculptures really helped to develop modern art in Britain. “It would be possible to carve the same subject in a different stone each time, throughout life, without a repetition of form”. Clark also became her patron as well.

Two of my great pleasures meet in the gift stores of museums – books and art.  While I cannot get to visit Tate Liverpool and see the beautiful exhibition that has just opened there, I can buy the catalogue “Mondrian and his studios”: here, a picture taken in 1930 of Mondrian in his studio in Paris.

Posted on: Sunday, July 6th, 2014

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