Harry Clarke

All Saints Church, Drimoleague, County Cork by Sasha Ward

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Coming down the hill into Drimoleague I saw a large concrete and stone church, built with no internal columns or divisions so I could see straight through it, ablaze with coloured light. Some of it came from plain yellow glass and some from an amazing concertina shaped window that is opposite the row of plain windows in the photo above. The church, designed by the modernist Cork architect Frank Murphy, was built in 1954-56 and the stained glass, from the studio of Harry Clarke, was installed in 1957. Although there are many interesting features in the building, including a huge mural behind the altar, I was drawn up the stairs to the gallery where I could get a close look at the stained glass.

South side of the church: Interior with yellow glass - transparent over the entrance doors, opaque at the sides.

South side of the church: Interior with yellow glass - transparent over the entrance doors, opaque at the sides.

The stained glass designer was William J. Dowling (1907-1980) who Harry Clarke had first employed in 1928 to help cope with an increasing number of commissions and who became the last manager of the studios up to their closure in 1973. The subject matter of the nine windows is the Catholic way of life, listed on the original design (which is in Trinity College Library) as 'Subjects adjust to Baptism, Family Prayers, First Communicants, Choosing Way of Life, The Mass, Work and Play, Extreme Unction, Judgement, Ascent of Soul to Heaven'. What makes the windows so interesting is that these scenes are set in 1950s Ireland.

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Row of windows on the south side of the church from the outside and the inside (above).

Row of windows on the south side of the church from the outside and the inside (above).

From the gallery, row of windows looking one way and the other.

From the gallery, row of windows looking one way and the other.

Half of the windows are made of blocks of bright uniform colours, these give out the blue glow that you see from a distance. In the morning sun, they also cast a strange blue glow on the face of the windows at the end of the sequence (above left). The same overwhelming colours are also used in blocks above and below the nine scenes. I was dazzled with bright colour, critical of the rather crude compositions and borders of some of the scenes (what would Harry think!) but so impressed with the actual figures and the painting of the faces. 

Panel 1 Baptism, Panel 2 Family Prayers, Panel 3 First Communicants

Panel 1 Baptism, Panel 2 Family Prayers, Panel 3 First Communicants

Close up to the panels, there are numerous gorgeous period details, from the furnishings, the clothes and shoes to the sandwiches and cups of tea (below right). My favourite groups of figures are the young couple having their baby baptised (above left), and the group wearing beautiful skirts and shoes pondering their futures - priesthood, religious life, marriage? (below left).

Details from Panel 4 Choosing a Way of Life & Panel 6 Work and Play

Details from Panel 4 Choosing a Way of Life & Panel 6 Work and Play

Having spent the previous fortnight looking at windows by Harry Clarke made mostly in the 1920s, it was difficult to see the influence of the studio on these ones. However, a close up of the faces of the congregation at mass (below) shows a hand that knows how to paint an interesting, convincing person  that doesn't copy Harry Clarke's idiosyncratic manner but updates it to a style that is very 1950s.

Detail from Panel 5 The Mass

Detail from Panel 5 The Mass

Harry Clarke trip (part 2) by Sasha Ward

This is a continuation of my Harry Clarke tour, with visits to another three buildings in the south of Ireland. Seeing the windows that I know so well from books reinforces the fact (that I also learnt from books) that stained glass is an architectural art, dependent on its surroundings for the impact it makes.

The Honan Chapel, University College Cork, exterior: 2 of HC's windows: St Declan 1916, Our Lady of Sorrows 1917

The Honan Chapel, University College Cork, exterior: 2 of HC's windows: St Declan 1916, Our Lady of Sorrows 1917

The windows I really wanted to see are in the Honan Chapel of St Finbarr in Cork. These eleven windows, Clarke's first significant commission at the age of 25, show eleven Irish Saints with small figurative scenes above and below each magnificent, exotic figure. In this chapel, built in the style of the Celtic Art revival from 1915-16, the balance of light was all wrong - overlit inside, overcast outside - so you could hardly see through the windows, apart from the two in the unlit chancel that include the beautiful Our Lady of Sorrows (above right).

Head of St Gobnait                                                                  Head of St Declan

Head of St Gobnait                                                                  Head of St Declan

The windows in the nave, all made in 1916, are set in deep stone niches above eye level, the colours and details are gorgeous and Clarke's windows put the others in the chapel, made by An Tur Gloine (Sarah Purser's studio) at the same time, in the shade. St Gobnait is the most eye-catching figure, see her profile above left, with the red and blue beads advancing from the borders to make a background for her flying bees. The borders and the scenes above and below the other saints are filled with writing, figures, patterns and stories. Wonderful to see a grotesque Judas with frightened pilgrims behind him at the bottom of the St Brendan window (below right) and great to know that the strangeness of these characters didn't stop other churches commissioning work from young Harry.

Lower panels for St Albert and St Brendan

Lower panels for St Albert and St Brendan

Interior of Duhill Catholic Church, County Tipperary

Interior of Duhill Catholic Church, County Tipperary

Sometimes it's hard to focus on the beauty of the stained glass when you are confronted with all the other stuff you need in a church. The photo above shows the interior of a small rural church in Duhill, two fantastic Clarke windows and me close to the left hand window, having moved a banner that was hiding the lovely patterned lower section.

Vision of Bernadette at Lourdes, 1925

Vision of Bernadette at Lourdes, 1925

The morning light was flooding through this window that shows the vision of Bernadette. The two figures are beautiful and glow against a stripy sky with the silhouettes of trees and towers. Zooming in on Mary, I love the way her radiance is surrounded first by rocky crags and hanging flowers, then by a border of bright beads that puts the whole scene into a more interesting craggy shape. Although the other window, with a dramatic scene showing Salome carrying the huge head of St. John the Baptist, is equally good, the balance of light that morning - too much natural light this time inside the church - made it more difficult to read. The tops and bottoms of these two windows are filled with tiny patterns, doodles on pale glass around a bright geometric flower; intricate, abstract panels and borders that really compliment both of the complex figurative scenes.

The Beheading of John the Baptist, 1925: Lower panel

The Beheading of John the Baptist, 1925: Lower panel

An Diseart, Dingle, County Kerry. Institute of Irish Culture and Spirituality, formerly Presentation Convent Chapel

An Diseart, Dingle, County Kerry. Institute of Irish Culture and Spirituality, formerly Presentation Convent Chapel

The six pairs of lancets in Dingle are in the first floor chapel of the former Presentation Convent -on the left in the photo above. They were made to his design by Clarke's studio in 1925 and represent the life of Christ. In comparison with HC's early masterpieces in Cork which he painted as well as designed, it is easy to spot some painted passages, particularly the bland heads of Christ, that were executed under his supervision but by other artists in the studio. However, set in the small, narrow space of the beautifully furnished chapel, these windows are overwhelming, rich, detailed and delicate. 

The clear glass in the borders, tops and bottoms is very effective, and the rest of the backgrounds are filled with flowers, 1920s style in a brilliant colour palette. I love the design of all of these windows, the position of the figures, the groups of heads in profile, the clothes and shoes and the fantasy landscapes in the backgrounds. This is the place that I would recommend for a visit, not only for Harry Clarke, but for the whole of the beautiful Dingle peninsula.

Below: Double light windows 1 - 6

1. The Visit of the Magi                                                           2. The Baptism of Jesus (detail)

1. The Visit of the Magi                                                           2. The Baptism of Jesus (detail)

3. Let the Little Children Come to Me (detail)              4. The Sermon on the Mount

3. Let the Little Children Come to Me (detail)              4. The Sermon on the Mount

5. The Agony in the Garden                                                         6. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (detail)

5. The Agony in the Garden                                                         6. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (detail)

Harry Clarke trip (part 1) by Sasha Ward

When I first started looking at stained glass I was drawn to the work of Harry Clarke. This was in the 1970s and I was a teenager who collected fairy tale books, so it's easy to see why I liked his style. I found his work as interesting and intricate as the medieval glass I loved, without falling into the trap of trying to copy it.  As my opinions were formed from the pages of books, I realised that it was about time I took a trip to see some of his windows in the churches of Ireland. 

Church of the Assumption, Wexford 1919 - whole window and detail of St Aidan's gorgeous cape.

Church of the Assumption, Wexford 1919 - whole window and detail of St Aidan's gorgeous cape.

First stop Wexford, the Church of the Assumption and a 1919 commission showing the Madonna with Saints Aidan and Adrian. For all of the windows, I've shown the whole window in the first picture because it is the originality of the composition - no conventional borders or figures squeezed under canopies - that I think sets Harry Clarke windows apart from most of the others. Obviously the details are gorgeous, but I don't think beautiful glass painting and etching is as hard to do as a convincing set of figures. The face of the Madonna (below), with background patterns circling her ruby halo is quite mesmerising. There's not too much colour in this window and it works perfectly in the space.

Wexford details - left: faces of the Madonna and child, right: Harry Clarke's signature and fish in the sea

Wexford details - left: faces of the Madonna and child, right: Harry Clarke's signature and fish in the sea

St. Barrahane's Church of Ireland, Castletownsend 1918 - Nativity window and detail of Madonna and child

St. Barrahane's Church of Ireland, Castletownsend 1918 - Nativity window and detail of Madonna and child

In the scenic church of St. Barrahane in County Cork, there are three HC windows, the earliest is a three light Nativity window from 1918. The face of the Madonna again holds your attention and makes an interesting comparison to Wexford, as does the background to the figures, which is split up in a more conventional diamond pattern made of pale textured glass with blobs of deep colour. My favourite part of this window are the angels at the top of the main lights, particularly the jazzy parts behind the figures where the patterns break out of the diamond formation (below).

Castletownsend details - angels above the nativity scene

Castletownsend details - angels above the nativity scene

I was expecting to see the figure of St. Luke (below) in the same church, but hadn't realised how small (less than a metre tall) and therefore exquisite the window would be. Another fabulous face surrounded by small saints, sections of pattern, coat of arms and inscription. There is a little head of the Virgin Mary on the olive coloured palette in the Saint's hand, another piece of wonderful detail and a great colour contrast. 

Castletownsend - St. Luke window in the south wall of the chancel 1926

Castletownsend - St. Luke window in the south wall of the chancel 1926

Christchurch, Church of Ireland, Gorey 1923 - St Martin and St Luke window and detail of St Luke

Christchurch, Church of Ireland, Gorey 1923 - St Martin and St Luke window and detail of St Luke

There are also three HC windows in Christchurch, Gorey in County Wexford (I've not shown my least favourite window in both cases). This is a large church, the windows are lofty and somehow less overwhelming. However the one showing St Martin of Tours with the beggar and the the gorgeous St Luke has a great composition with a diagonal emphasis, tiny figures above and below and a fabulous dark blue oval of landscape that seems to drip off St Martin on the left. As the detail of the tiny St Luke shows, these are lush 1920s landscapes, the brushwork on the pale glass is subtle and organic.

Gorey - St Stephen and angel detail from top of window 1922

Gorey - St Stephen and angel detail from top of window 1922

The tall St Stephen window has the most fantastic border, five rows of round beads and lovely inscriptions at the bottom. The commission is in memory of Percival Lea-Wilson, a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary who was shot by Republicans in 1920. Above the stiff figure of the martyred St Stephen, with stones patterning his clothes, is one of those Clarke angels with protective outstretched arms and a gaze, for once, looking straight at you.

Harry Clarke, Sturminster Newton by Sasha Ward

Bottom right in window, HC signature and date                                                                 My quick sketch

Bottom right in window, HC signature and date                                                                 My quick sketch

The Harry Clarke window in St. Mary's Church, Sturminster Newton, Dorset is worth going a long way to see. I pored over poor quality illustrations of his work in stained glass catalogues when I was a student but never managed to visit any. It was worth the wait - better in real life than you could imagine, a reminder of all the best things about stained glass and a thrill to see the signature of my first favourite stained glass artist. To savour the moment that I saw my first Harry Clarke I did a quick sketch of some of the background details.

Saints Elizabeth, Mary and Barbara                  Click to enlarge        Saint Elizabeth of Hungary / Roma Spencer-Smith

However, the figures interested me as much as the patterns, or maybe the way the figures get their strength from the way they are entwined with the patterns and sharp contemporary details. St. Elizabeth is based on a portrait of Roma Spencer-Smith in whose memory this window was commissioned and St. Barbara is based on Harry Clarke's wife, Margaret. The child is a portrait of Roma's son, under a year old when she died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. These figures sent me off to find out more about the combination of  people and saints portrayed - I like a portrait that looks you in the eye. 

Details showing dedication and the shoes of the 3 main figures               Click to enlarge