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Harry Clarke (1889-1931)

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Illustration from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1916)
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Henry Patrick (Harry) Clarke (b. Dublin, 17 March 1889; d. Coire, Switzerland, 6 January 1931) was an illustrator and stained glass artist. His work was influenced by both the passing Art Nouveau and coming Art Deco movements. His stained glass was particularly informed by the French Symbolist movement.

Clarke's father Joshua was a craftsman from Leeds who set up a church decorating and stained glass studio in Dublin in 1886. Harry was trained in stained glass by Harry Nagle at his father's studio, and by A. E. Child at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. In 1913, having completed his education, he moved to London, rented a studio and set himself up as a book illustrator. Picked up by London publisher Harrap, he started with two commissions which were never completed: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (his work on which was destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising) and Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock.

His first published work was Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen in 1916 – including 16 colour plates and more than 24 black and white illustrations. This was followed by an edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination – initially illustrated in black and white, with eight colour plates added to later printings.

It was followed by editions of The Years at the Spring (edited by Lettice D'O. Walters, 1920, including 12 colour plates and more than 14 black and white drawings), Charles Perrault's Fairy Tales of Perrault, and Goethe's Faust (1925, including 8 colour plates and more than 70 monotone and duotone images). The last of these is perhaps his most famous work, and prefigures the imagery of 1960s psychedelia.

Two of his most sought-after titles include promotional booklets for Jameson Irish Whiskey: A History of a Great House (1924, and subsequent reprints) and Elixir of Life (1925), which was written by Geofrey Warren. His final book was Selected Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne, which was published in 1928.

In the meantime, he had also been working hard in stained glass, producing more than 130 windows, both religious and secular – he and his brother, Walter, having taken over their father's studio after his death in 1921. Clarke's glass is distinguished by the finesse of its drawing, unusual in the medium, his use of rich colours (inspired by an early visit to see the stained glass of the Cathedral of Chartres, he was especially fond of deep blues), and an innovative integration of the window leading as part of the overall design (his use of heavy lines in his black and white book illustrations is probably derived from his glass techniques). Highlights include the windows of the Honan Chapel in University College Cork, a window illustrating John Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes" (now in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin), the "Geneva Window" (commissioned by the Irish Government for the International Labour Building of the League of Nations, now in the hedquarters of the Wolfsonian Foundation in Miami, Florida), and the windows of Bewley's Café on Dublin's Grafton Street.

Ill health plagued both the Clarke brothers, and worn down by the pace of their work, and perhaps the toxic chemicals used in stained glass production, both died within a year of each other – Harry second in early 1931, of tuberculosis while trying to recuperate in Switzerland. His studio, Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd, finally closed in 1973.

ReferencesEdit

  • Theo Snoddy, Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century, Merlin Publishing, 2002

External linksEdit

Online referenceEdit

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