Harry Clarke

Detail of St. Patrick by Harry Clarke Harry Clarke: Irelands “Strangest Genius”. Harry Clarke is rightly regarded as one the finest stained glass artists of the 20th Century. This article takes a brief look at the history of his short but hugely fruitful life. By Daniel Burke Born in Dublin on March 17th 1889, Henry Patrick (Harry) Clarke was an illustrator and stained glass artist. He remains without doubt Ireland’s most famous practitioner of the craft. After moving from Leeds to Dublin in 1877, Clarkes craftsman father Joshua established a decorating firm in the city which would later incorporate a stained glass division. It is here in 1903 that the young 14 year old Harry would become apprenticed while also taking night classes in stained glass at the Dublin Metropolitan Art School. In 1910 he exhibited his first stained glass panel The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, at the Arts and Craft's Society of Ireland. The exhibition was instrumental in securing Clarke's application for an Art School's Scholarship in Stained Glass, which he was awarded in 1910. For three consecutive years following this he preceded to win the National Board of Education's Gold Medal in stained glass. Having won a travelling Scholarship in 1913 Harry left Art School and moved to London. In 1914, he travelled to Paris and Chartres and studied medieval stained-glass. He was especially inspired by the 12th-century glass in the French cathedral of Chartres. Returning to London in a bid to secure employment as an illustrator, Harry won his first commission for Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This, along with a second commission for Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock would never be completed. Not until 1916 would Harry’s illustrations make it to print with over 40 plates included in a publication of Hans Christian Andersons Fairy Tales. Following the death of his father in 1921, having continued to be prolific in both stained glass and illustration up to this period, Harry and his brother Walter would take control of Joshua Clarke & Sons, Harry managing the stained glass division, and his brother the decorating. Output was not confined to that from his own studios. He was closely associated with Sarah Purser’s An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass) studios also based in Dublin, an association of leading artists of the time, including Evie Hone, Beatrice Elverly and Wilhelmina Geddes. Clarkes work through both studios would cement his reputation not only as a leading arts and crafts artist but as one of the master stained glass artists of the early 20th Century. It would also confirm Ireland’s status as one of the world’s foremost centres of excellence in the craft. Though completed works by Clarke can be found as far afield as Australia, his glass is mostly located throughout Ireland and Great Britain in both secular and non-secular buildings. Detail of Mary & Christ - St. Patricks Church, Lahardane, Co Mayo, Ireland Plagued by ill health from an early age, Harry Clarke died in Switzerland on January 6th, 1931 whilst attempting to recover from tuberculosis, aged just 41; his brother Walter having also died at an early age only one year previously. It is poignant indeed that Harry’s tireless work-rate (over 160 windows directly ascribed to him), coupled with continual exposure to the lead and other chemical toxins used in producing stained glass, no doubt contributed to his early demise. Re-named as Harry Clarke Studios in 1930, they continued to produce stained glass in his unmistakable style under the direction of his wife Margaret. The firm finally ceased to trade in 1973. Daniel Burke is a practicing stained glass artist and studio owner of Lightworks Stained Glass, based in Clitheroe, Lancashire, UK.