Henry Patrick Clarke, RHA (1889-1931) Harry Clarke’s ability to work with equal distinction as a book illustrator and a stained-glass artist has led to his reputation as a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, not only in his native Ireland but internationally. The son of a leading church decorator and stained-glass artist, Harry Clarke was born in Dublin on 17 March 1889 and educated at the Central Model School, Marlborough Street, and then by the Jesuits at Belvedere College. On the death of his mother in 1903, he spent some time in the office of the architect, Thomas McNamara, before entering his father’s studio. Falling under the influence of the work of Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Burne-Jones, he developed skills in stained-glass design before winning a scholarship to the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin (1908), and three consecutive National Gold Medals from the South Kensington Board of Education (1911-13). A travel scholarship enabled him to study stained glass in the French province of Ile de France in 1914. He returned to Ireland to establish himself as a stained-glass designer, with the window executed for Honan Chapel, Cork (1915-17).
He also worked as an illustrator, producing a series of books that began in 1913 with Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales and culminated in 1923 with a second, full-colour edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. In addition, he taught illustration at the Metropolitan School from 1918 to 1923.
Following his father’s death, in 1921, Clarke extended the family business and served as its managing director and principal designer. Meanwhile his glass, which was widely exhibited, had gained an international reputation, and his illustrations were acclaimed. The climax of his career came four years later with major exhibitions in London and Dublin, and his election to the Royal Hibernian Academy (ARHA 1924, RHA 1925). Though never received, the Geneva Window (1928) was designed as a gift from the Irish Free State to the League of Nations; a glowing world of colour, it consolidated Clarke’s work as a designer and illustrator. From about 1925, overwork had begun to take an increasing toll on his health. In 1929, Clarke visited Switzerland, where he was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. He died in Chur, in the province of Graubünden, on 6 January 1931.
Further reading: Nicola Gordon Bowe, The Life and Work of Harry Clarke, Blackrock: Irish Academic Press, 1989; Martin Moore Steenson, A bibliographical checklist of the work of Harry Clarke, London: Books & Things, 2003