In recent years, there has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in the work of Harry Clarke (1889-1931). Ireland’s most renowned stained-glass artist, the work of Harry Clarke and his studio team is to be found all over the capital and beyond. HarryClarke.net provides an archive of his windows from Ireland and beyond, and The History Press have published Strangest Genius: The stained glass of Harry Clarke, a beautifully illustrated book that brings together the entire Clarke collection. For creative revisionists , there’s even a colouring book!
Mary Clerkin Higgins, a stained-glass artist and conservator, maintains that:
A complex window is like an orchestra playing a symphony. The colours must work as an ensemble; whether the artist intends them to hum a rich, beautiful melody or be a rambunctious chorus of hues, there has to be a basic structure, order and harmony….Harry Clarke was, above all else, a truly great colourist, one who could deftly combine a rich palette of colours to achieve dazzling results.
Personally, I have always hand a great fondness for Clarke’s book illustrations, in particular the rather haunting ‘The Last Hour of the Night’, which served as frontispiece to Patrick Abercrombie’s Dublin of the Future: The New Town Plan (1922). Published at a time when the city was emerging from the violence of the revolutionary period, the piece shows destroyed Dublin landmarks alongside the great shame of the city – its unsanitary and deathtrap tenement blocks:
A recent fundraiser for vital renovation and conservation works on a Clarke window in Ringsend reminded me of a damaged but ultimately salvaged Clarke piece on display today in The Little Museum of Dublin. Depicting Saint Brendan, this piece was rescued from a skip by architectural historian (and one of the real champions of Dublin history) Peter Pearson. As Pól Ó Conghaile has noted, ” Peter kept the panel’s shape by fitting it into an old bread tray. The tray remains as its frame today, with two words printed on its top side: Irish Pride.”
The odds of finding a Harry Clarke in a skip, damaged or otherwise, are slim to none today. The Little Museum of Dublin, who currently display the rescued piece, are hoping to expand their museum in the years ahead, which will allow them to display more artifacts like this one.