Art commentator and critic Adrian Clark

I am an active writer and commentator on art, and art history.

My particular passion lies in British and Irish artists of the mid-20th century. Having started as a collector, my fascination led on to research and writing.

A City lawyer by profession and a historian by training, I seek to bring to bear these disciplines in my analysis. In addition to my books, I have written extensively in The British Art Journal, reviewing exhibitions and books, with some longer articles involving original research. This website reproduces many of the reviews, as well as summaries of the longer articles.

What’s New: John Rothenstein, James Pope-Hennessy

The next book is now confirmed. It will be a study of John Rothenstein as Director of the Tate Gallery from 1938-1964.

During his time there the British art world, of which he was a central figure, underwent huge changes. His tenure also involved various controversies and he dealt with all of the leading figures of the time, such as Francis Bacon, Douglas Cooper, Anthony Blunt and Sir Alfred Munnings. Research has begun and it is hoped to publish in 2017.

Also, I am wondering whether James Pope-Hennessy (1916-1974) might make a good book.

An exceptionally elegant writer, his great breakthrough was his epic biography of Queen Mary. A Lonely Business, a small collection of his letters edited by Peter Quennell, also shows what a great writer/correspondent he could be.

The younger brother of the rather better known Sir John, a senior arts administrator and art historian, James appears all over the place in books about other people; he was a close friend of James Lees-Milne, until they fell out; and he had the misfortune at one point to be close to Guy Burgess. James came to a sorry end in 1974, murdered in his flat.

Would people like to read a book about him? Does anyone have personal recollections of him?

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  • Constance Morton
  • I just bought a delightful picture by her, of farm buildings in watercolour with pen and ink. Unframed. The internet says not much more than her dates. Anyone know more about her?

  • The Sainsbury Centre at UEA
  • My daughter and I made our first trip to the Sainsbury Centre to see the Giacometti show. It’s a neat little exhibition; not enough Giacometti to be exciting, but enough to make the journey from London worthwhile. I enjoyed the subtlety of the themes being developed around other artists, [Read More…]

  • Prunella Clough and John Piper at the Jerwood Gallery
  • The Jerwood Gallery in Hastings is rapidly becoming one of our favourite places to go.They are on a roll, with super little focussed shows, intelligently making use of their relatively small space to best effect. Prunella Clough’s early work is fascinating; her later work of no interest whatsoever. [Read More…]

  • Kenneth Rowntree at Croft Castle
  • We visited Croft Castle, a National Trust property in Herefordshire, on our way to Shropshire. There are three oils by Rowntree on display, two of them paintings of the castle itself. (One is said to be on loan). The usual lovely Rowntree work. I imagine the 2nd Lord [Read More…]

Books

My first book, British and Irish Art 1945-1951 From War to Festival, was published in 2010, and a biography of Peter Watson, written with Jeremy Dronfield, was published by John Blake on April 2nd, 2015.

Queer Saint: The Cultured Life of Peter Watson

Reviews

Editor’s Choice, British Art Journal, Volume XVI No 1 Summer 2015
“…most enjoyable and revealing…”

The Times Literary Supplement 8 July 2015
“…painstakingly researched, with telling quotes from obscure sources… resourceful interviews with doughty survivors of Watson’s world.”

Order via Amazon

Order via Waterstones

ICA Culture Now Interview

On 10th April, Adrian Clark discussed the life and work of Peter Watson with Charlie Porter.

Watch the full interview on this site’s page on Peter Watson, or on the ICA’s web site.

Peter Watson (1908-1956) supported a whole range of British artists financially and in other ways. He funded the creation of the cultural journal, Horizon, and helped to create the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He also built up an extremely wide ranging collection of art, by many of the great 20th century masters, and also the leading British artists of the time.

book cover of Queer Saint - the cultured life of Peter Watson

Full List of Contents

Without Peter Watson’s patronage, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud might have failed before they ever began. His tastes shaped and changed the course of twentieth century art, and he was a founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Whilst Watson gets frequent mentions in surveys of the cultural scene, there has been no book about him. Co-authored with Jeremy Dronfield, my purpose in writing a full biography is to seek to place his varied life and achievements into their proper context.

It also details his relationships with many of the leading artists of his day, as well as exploring his sophisticated personality.

The premier doyen of the gay scene, Watson cut a dash through the 30s Berlin cabaret, pre-war Paris, English high society and the golden boulevards of Hollywood before his mysterious and tragic death. Read More…

Reviews

Editor’s Choice, British Art Journal, Volume XVI NO 1 Summer 2015
“…most enjoyable and revealing…”

The Times Literary Supplement 8 July 2015
“…painstakingly researched, with telling quotes from obscure sources… resourceful interviews with doughty survivors of Watson’s world.”

Order via Amazon

Order via Waterstones

ICA Culture Now Interview

On 10th April, Adrian Clark discussed the life and work of Peter Watson with Charlie Porter. Watch the full interview on this site’s page on Peter Watson, or on the ICA’s web site.

British and Irish Art 1945-1951: From War to Festival

British and Irish Art 1945-1951

Published in 2010, this book radically re-examines a crucial period of modern British and Irish art, from a historical viewpoint.

By studying the intricate mechanisms whereby artists turned oil on canvas into money – or not – the book explains how artists’ reputations were made or broken. Individual artists discussed include Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Graham Sutherland, Gerard Dillon, Robert Colquhoun, Paul Nash and many more.

Full List of Contents

To purchase or inquire, CLICK for Paul Holberton (publishers)

Colquhoun-Macbryde Exhibition Catalogue

link to colquhoun macbryde exhibition pageScottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, 22 November 2014 to 24 May 2015.

This was the first opportunity to see a large quantity of the work of Robert Colquhoun and Robert Macbryde.

The show was brilliantly assembled by Patrick Elliott, Senior Curator at the SNGMA. I assisted with the catalogue, contributing to two of the four chapters. Learn More

Other Projects

Other projects have included various articles and reviews, a commission for the Royal Academy, and ongoing gathering of material about AJL McDonnell, with a view to writing a study of him.

The Art Collection of Peter Watson (1908-1956)

PDF version of article originally published in The British Art Journal, Volume XVI, No 2 (Autumn 2015).

From early in the 1930s through to his death in 1956, Peter Watson collected, and occasionally sold, a wide variety of modern English and foreign art.

The contrasting fortunes of Watson’s collections in Paris and in London, followed by the nature of their dispersal after his death, and the absence of any personal files, makes it difficult to recreate the extent of his collections in precise detail. This study begins the process of analysing Watson’s significant art collection, both in London and in Paris before the War, the details of which have not previously been assembled.

AJL McDonnell

AJL McDonnell was the London representative for the Felton Bequest for some years after the War, from 1947 to his death in 1964. The Felton Bequest was established in the early years of the 20th Century by Alfred Felton “to support culture and the community”, with half the funding supporting charities in the State of Victoria in Australia. The initial capital was the enormous sum of £378,000, which meant that its purchasing power in the 20th C art world has been prodigious. McDonnell worked closely with Sir Kenneth (later Lord) Clark to buy sensational works of art in the London market. These works, which included Old Masters and modern works, then passed to the National Gallery of Victoria.

McDonnell’s art market activities are complementary to my studies of that market in my first book. I shall very much welcome contact from those with an interest in him.