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Harry Clarke News

Church Recovers Harry Clarke Window

A stained-glass panel crafted in 1962 at the Harry Clarke studios has been reclaimed by parishioners of Kildimo (Co. Limerick, Ireland), after being missing from the church since the 1970s. The panel, depicting three generations of Jesus’s family (with Jesus, his mother Mary, and grandmother St Anne) was lost to the community when the parish church at Old Kildimo was deconsecrated in 1970 with a view to building new premises. A new church, St Joseph’s, opened in the village in 1971, and some of the old church fittings were disposed of. It seems that the then priest gifted the glass to the architect of the new church, and it had not been seen since.

Fig. 1. Detail from the recovered window

Fig. 1. Detail from the recovered window

However, the panel recently remerged at an auction in Kilkenny, and Fr John Donworth, the parish priest of Kildimo and Pallaskenry, made the trip to reclaim the glass, purchasing it with the consent of the parish finance committee. The reserve price was set at €7,000, but the bids for this prestigious work increased to €12,500, which including commission brought the overall cost to €15,000.

The piece measures 102 x 35cm and is signed ‘Clarke, Dublin’. Harry Clarke (1887–1931) is regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest stained-glass artists. He grew up in Dublin, where he absorbed Arts and Crafts principles and Celtic revivalism. After winning national prizes and producing some superb book illustrations, he was given a commission at the age of 26 to make a series of large windows for the Honan Chapel, University College, Cork. The windows depict Irish saints and remain outstanding examples of his work – being highly stylized and making full use of materials such as flashed glass and demanding techniques, such as plating, acid etching, and microscopic painting. Commissions followed in Ireland, the UK and the United States of America. His work was shaped by numerous influences, including the sleekness of Art Nouveau, Celtic symbolism (with its emphasis on fantasy and mood), and central European Secessionism (with its delight in opulent decoration). By experimenting with plating and acid-etching techniques, Clarke was able to recreate such images in stained glass, producing figures with elongated bodies, gaunt faces, expressive eyes, and rich depths of colour. During his short life, Clarke created over 160 stained glass windows for religious and commercial commissions, but few are believed to be left in Limerick.

Harry Clarke Exhibition

Fig. 2. The controversial scene

Fig. 2. The controversial scene

Of Harry Clarke’s windows, one of the most controversial was arguably the Geneva Window, which the New Irish Free State government commissioned from him in 1925 as Eire’s contribution to the International Labour Organisation’s headquarters. Drawing on Irish literature, including the work of authors like James Joyce (1882–1941), for the design, the window offended conservative republican tastes with its depiction of Irish drunkenness and scantily dressed women and was never installed. There was unease in the then government over Clarke’s depiction of Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley, as it included two naked women, including the barely veiled dancer Nelly. Dublin City Gallery (The Hugh Lane) on Parnell Square, has bought an original section of the controversial panel and it will now go on permanent display.

Further Information

http://www.rte.ie/ten/news/2015/0311/686217-scandalous-stain-glass-goes-on-exhibit-in-dublin/ (including a clip to hear Margarita Cappock, Head of Collections at The Hugh Lane discussing Harry Clarke’s work)

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/visual-art/scandalous-harry-clarke-piece-comes-home-to-dublin-1.2135069 (for a video on the window)

http://www.harryclarke.net/ (the Harry Clarke website)

Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen, Strangest Genius: The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke, Dublin, 2010

Nicola Gordon Bowe, Harry Clarke, the Life and Work, Dublin, 2012