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In Memory of Anthony M. Clark (1923–1976)

By ALVAR GONZÁLEZ-PALACIOS - 15. September 2023
'His enormously long arms and legs would have sat perfectly in a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi, whom he revered, while his vague aura of sadness would have done justice to a portrait by his hero Pompeo Batoni.'
COLLECTIVE MEMORIES IS AN ARCHIVE OF PERSONAL ANECDOTES ABOUT ART COLLECTORS WHO ARE NO LONGER WITH US, TOLD BY THOSE CLOSE TO THEM. THis is a RECOLLECTION OF Anthony M. Clark, American curator, connoisseur and collector who would have been 100 this year, WRITTEN BY his friend and fellow scholar.

The first impression was that of a shy and possibly somewhat clumsy man in the Herculean mass of his body with the glassy shimmer of his spectacles—shy, but perhaps also rather melancholy, grumpy and sullen. Then came the smile and one gradually perceived a sense of mischievous intellectual irony, sharp-witted yet never sarcastic.

His enormously long arms and legs would have sat perfectly in a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi, whom he revered, while his vague aura of sadness would have done justice to a portrait by his hero Pompeo Batoni. He frequented these friends for so many years and got to know them so well that he was almost struck dumb by them. He knew their habits, their flaws and their personal charm as well as their art and he defended them as one might defend a not particularly popular relative, with a passion that did not totally succeed in concealing a hint of irritation, for he would have liked them to have been a tad more congenial, more friendly. By then, however, Tony Clark was spellbound, and comfortable only when surrounded by papers, books and artefacts testifying to life in Rome in the 18th century. The information that he had gathered over the previous twenty years literally spilled out of his pockets in the shape of tiny notes in the format of Chracas’ Diario Ordinario, in handwriting as meticulous and delicate as that of Aramis. His learning, far deeper than he wished people to know for he was embarrassed by his erudition, was peppered with anecdotes, witticisms, small tricks of the memory, and rare and penetrating definitions. He could, on occasion, also be stern, but he never quite came across as totally involved, his negative judgments being no more than skin deep, almost surges of transitory impatience or irritation. Relations with the man were not always easy. With the scholar, on the other hand, things always went swimmingly, and he was a choice example of generosity with his knowledge. Letters, photographs, advice, notes and xerox copies of those notes arrived perfectly on time, seasoned with unflagging enthusiasm for anything and everything that had to do with art history, especially when concerning one of his 18th-century pals. The man was also capable of adopting firm positions and of defending them like a soldier on the front lines. It was his lengthy spell as Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts that imparted international importance to that collection. His acquisitions were extremely varied, and when we remember that they included such masterpieces as Grechetto’s Immaculate Conception, Gaulli’s Diana Ottoboni, Costa’s Portrait of a Cardinal which some consider to be an early work by Correggio, Claude Vignon’s St. Ambrose, Prud’hon’sUnion of Love and Friendship, Gherardo delle Notti’s Denial of St. Peter, Manet’s Smoker and numerous paintings by Vouet, Le Brun, Solimena, Giaquinto, De Mura, Gauffier and De Chirico, we can understand just how beneficial his stint as director was for European art history in the United States. His interest and his knowledge were not restricted to painting, however. What Tony had to say for instance in connection with my own field of study, the decorative arts, was never banal. One has but to consider that the only three items he chose for Minneapolis (Piranesi’s Rezzonico consolle, a silver inkwell by Vincenzo Coaci that was given to Pope Pius VI, and a tabernacle by Giovanni Giardini, the greatest bronzesmith in Rome in the Late Baroque era) were three absolute masterpieces—certainly, each in its own field, the three finest examples on display anywhere in the New World.

Gerrit van Honthorst, known as Gherardo delle Notti, The Denial of St. Peter, 1623. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis
Édouard Manet, The Smoker, 1866. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis
Vincenzo Coaci, The Coaci Inkstand, 1792. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

Alongside this civic work he developed his own private collection which included a choice selection of works by his friends Canova, Batoni (with several paintings), Cades, Costanzi, Ceccarini, Mengs and von Maron—there was not a single artist working in Rome between the pontificates of Pope Clement XI Albani and Pope Pius VI Braschi who was not represented in his personal anthology. The flat in which he spent his last years, at 970 Park Avenue, New York City, was like the microcosm of some learned, deliciously meticulous prelate, in which every corner was occupied by mementos of a Grand Tour that grew in an ever greater number every summer. His collection of 18th-century graphic work, which included hundreds of drawings, was to become one of the largest duly ordered collections of its kind. His time in New York coincided with his arrival at the Metropolitan Museum, but despite his early success, political and cultural differences prompted him to resign in anger.

Everyone is saddened by the fact that Tony Clark did not write more, not only because what he did publish was always enlightening and intelligent but also because it was a pleasure to read his erudite notes invariably enlivened by his sharp wit.

I met Tony around 1965, when I was introduced to him by Giuliano Briganti in Rome. I wanted to meet him because Isa Belli Barsali had invited me to Lucca to help with an exhibition she was preparing on Pompeo Batoni and we felt it absolutely essential that Tony should write the introduction to the catalogue. He penned a lengthy essay entitled ‘Batoni’s Professional Career and Style’, which was followed by an elegant piece entitled ‘Pompeo Batoni and the English’ by Francis Haskell, whom I met on the same occasion. It was they who introduced me to other wonderful friends, including Hugh Honour, John Fleming and John and Eileen Harris. It fell precisely to John Harris to write me the letter with which I conclude.

London 26 November 1976


Dearest Alvar,

what sadnesses; we weep not to be in Roma following the bier chanting perhaps pavanes for our dead cicerone. Let us erect some monument to him. I shall miss that sad mustachioed face; no Batoni, no 18th century Roman painting; they should have buried him where he fell in the Doria Pamphili and there we could have designed some fine mausoleum. You shall choose the style. I hope he is buried in the English Cemetery as I said in a note to The Times! God, don’t let [John] Maxon drag his body back to the US.


Love from the weepers here



ALVAR GONZÁLEZ-PALACIOS is an art historian specializing in Italian and French decorative arts. His extensive publications include catalogues for the Mus.e du Louvre, Museo del Prado, Scuderie del Quirinale and the Vatican Museums. In 2018, he was a guest curator for Luigi Valadier: Splendor in Eighteenth-Century Rome at the Frick Collection, where he has lectured, in addition to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and across England, France, Spain and Italy.
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