Real Lives: Recognition for bringing Dane’s art to city gallery

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The director of the Scottish National Gallery has been awarded the Danish equivalent of the CBE by the Scandinavian nation’s Cultural Institute.

Michael Clarke was made Commander of the Order of Dannebrog after organising an exhibition featuring the work of Danish artist Christen Købke at the gallery during summer last year.

It was the first exhibition outside Købke’s own country to showcase his work, with the artist considered one of the greatest talents within Denmark during the first half of the 19th century.

Prior to joining the National Gallery in 1984, 59-year-old Mr Clarke, who lives in Edinburgh with his wife and daughter, held various curatorial positions in York, the British Museum and Manchester University.

He was appointed director in 2000, amidst managing the £30 million Playfair Project – between 1999 and 2004 – which brought the Scottish National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy together by adjoining their buildings at the foot of the Mound.

As a result, the gallery doubled its visitor figures, with more than 900,000 people now passing through the doors annually.

In 2004, Mr Clarke became part of the order of arts and letters – Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres – in France – which focuses on the importance of contributions towards the arts and literature.

Four years later he became a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh before being awarded a CBE by the Queen the following year.

Writing has also kept Mr Clarke busy over the years. He has released an number of publications focusing on subjects such as British watercolours and the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, as well as penning The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms.

He is currently working on a catalogue of French paintings on display in the Scottish National Gallery’s permanent collection.

After receiving the Danish award, Mr Clarke said: “I am deeply humbled to receive this wonderful Danish award, which should really be seen as a tribute to the very international nature of the National Galleries of Scotland.

“In 2010 we were fortunate enough to host a show devoted to arguably Denmark’s greatest painter, the marvellous Christen Købke.”

A spokesperson from the Scottish National Gallery added: “We are delighted that Michael Clarke has been given this great honour. The exhibition effectively put this important artist on the map in Scotland and we are thrilled that Michael’s role within this project has been recognised by the Danish people.”