Ireland's Memorial Records - Harry Clarke (1889-1931)
Harry Clarke, world-renowned stained-glass designer and decorative artist and illustrator, was born on 17th March 1889 and baptized Henry Patrick Clarke, was the son of Joshua Clarke and Brigid McGonigle. Joshua Clarke had emigrated from Leeds after the family fortune had been frittered away by two cousins and settled in Dublin where he established a stained glass studio and church decorating company at 33 North Frederick Street, where the Clarke family also resided. Harry Clarke was the second eldest of four children and when, aged fourteen, his mother died, he left school to help in his father's studios.
Unable to afford an apprenticeship fee to an established stained-glass studio, from 1904 Clarke attended night classes in stained glass at the Dublin Metropolitan Art School and in 1910 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 aided Clarke's application for an Art School's Scholarship in Stained Glass, which he was awarded in 1910, to study under Arthur Child. For three consecutive years – 1911 to 1913 - Clarke won the National Board of Education's Gold Medal in stained glass, the first successful pieces, Godhead Enthroned and The Meeting of St. Brendan with the Unhappy Judas, were displayed in the courtyard of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
In 1913 Clarke received his first commission as an illustrator. Working in black and white with ink, he illustrated Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner for Joseph Maunsell Hone's publishing company, Maunsel & Co. Not dissimilar to the work of Gustav Klimt and Aubrey Beardsley, Clarke's fantastical and often whimsical drawing's soon adorned Harrap & Co.'s Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy Tales (1916), Edgar Alan Poe's Tale's of Mystery and Imagination (1919) and the Fairy Tales of Perrault (1922). During 1922 Clarke began work on one of his last pieces of illustrative work, namely the intricate boarders for Ireland's Memorial Records, 1914-1918.
The eight designs plus a tailpiece contained within the eight volumes of Ireland's Memorial Records were described by Allen Figgis' Rare Books Catalogue as 'a combination of Celtic and Art Deco motifs, silhouette battle scenes, medals and insignia, religious and mythological scenes'. The eight designs are repeated and reversed throughout the volumes, which were inspired by an appeal launched by the Earl of Ypres in June 1919 to collect the names of Irishmen who had died in the Great War. Ultimately over 49,000 names were collected and published in Ireland's Memorial Records. Limited to 100 editions, the eight volumes were published in Dublin in 1923 by Maunsel and Roberts Ltd., and Clarke exhibited his designs at Aonach Tailteann Irish Arts Exhibition at the Royal Dublin Society in 1924, where he was awarded the Gold Trophy for his stained glass window, Eve of St. Agnes, and again in 1925 at the 7th Arts and Crafts Exhibition held at his own studios. The intention of Ireland's Memorial Records had been to place them in a permanent Architectural Monument. This monument finally took the form of four granite Pavilions designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and built at Islandbridge, Dublin. The Pavilions were specifically designed as 'book rooms' and each Pavilion contained a pair of Ireland's Memorial Records.
But it is perhaps for his stained glass work that Harry Clarke is best remembered. His first stained-glass commission was for the Honan Chapel, Co. Cork, and between 1915 and 1917 he worked at his father's studios at North Frederick Street producing eleven stained-glass windows in time for the dedication of the Chapel in November 1916. The Honan windows cemented Clarke's reputation as one of the preeminent designers and makers of stained-glass in Europe and were received to rapturous acclaim. Amongst Clarke's most celebrated stained-glass works are The Eve of St. Agnes, a private commission for Harold Jacob and his masterpiece, The Geneva Window, for the Irish State.
Based on the Keats poem, The Eve of St. Agnes was commissioned by Harold Jacob for his father's house in Dublin. When completed the twenty-two panels created a sensation and won the Aonach Tailteann Gold Trophies for both arts and crafts and arts industries. These can now be viewed at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin. The Geneva Window was commissioned by the Irish State for the League of Nations building in Geneva. This window depicts scenes from the works of Ireland's leading playwrights and dramatists of the day, such as Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Synge and Yeats. Despite Clarke's stained glass work and designs finding their way all over the world, perhaps his best known and loved stained-glass windows can be viewed at Bewley's Oriental Café on Grafton Street, Dublin.
On a more personal note, Harry Clarke met Margaret Crilly in 1904 while they were students at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. The couple married in 1914 and two sons issued from the marriage. Margaret Clarke was a renowned painter and had many commissions, notably St. Patrick Climbs Croagh Patrick, for the Mansion House, Dublin.
Described by friends and acquaintances alike as a tall, graceful, dark and wide-eyed man, Clarke could appear shy, but amongst his intimate friends he could be charming, witty and a bit of a raconteur, in essence every bit an artist. Harry Clarke died of tuberculosis at Coiré, Switzerland, on 6th January 1931, aged 41. Reporting on his death, the London Times lamented that Clarke's passing was a calamity for his country and the world of art. After her husband's death, Margaret continued to direct Harry Clarke's stained-glass studios in Dublin until her death in 1961.
Bowe, Gordon, Nicola., The Life and Work of Harry Clarke (Dublin, 1989); Bowe, Gordon, Nicola., Harry Clarke: A Monograph and Catalogue (Dublin, 1979); Bowe, Gordon, Nicola., Harry Clarke: His Graphic Art (Dublin, 1983); Dowling, William., 'Harry Clarke: Dublin Stained Glass Artist', Dublin Historical Record vol. 17, no. 2 (1962), pp. 55-61; 'Obituary: Mr. Harry Clarke: An Artist in Stained Glass', Times Saturday 10th January 1931, p. 12; Turner, Jane (ed.)., The Dictionary of Art vol. 7 (London, 1996), pp. 377-8.