The Clarke Stained Glass Studios Collection

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Images from the business archive of Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd

The Clarke Stained Glass Studios were prolific producers of stained glass windows for Irish and international clients over 80 years. Our collection contains stained glass designs, architects' blueprints and plans, photographs, documentation about sales and orders, correspondence, financial records, and staffing records related to stained glass work executed by the Clarke Studios from 1893 to 1973.

The early years: J. Clarke & Sons
Joshua Clarke moved to Ireland from Leeds in 1877, and initially worked with a firm of ecclesiastical suppliers. By 1887 he had established his own business as a church decorator, had married Bridget McGonigal, and was running his business from leased premises at number 33 North Frederick Street, behind Parnell Square in Dublin. The stained glass designs that survive from this period are very traditional, often taken from stock sheets provided by stained glass suppliers.

Central section of the two-light stained glass window, showing on the left the Virgin Mary and the Christ child, and on the right St Joseph and the child St John the Baptist, drawn in a very traditional style.

The firm was also engaged in painting and decorating work for churches and other institutions throughout Ireland, as can be seen in this estimate for painting and paper hanging work in the Children’s Hospital in Temple Street.

Joshua and Bridget Clarke’s eldest children, Walter and Harry, were born in 1888 and 1889. Harry was born on St Patrick's Day, March 17th 1889. Bridget Clarke died in 1903, when Harry was only 14. By then Harry had already shown an aptitude for drawing, and it is likely that he had done some work for his father’s stained glass firm even before leaving school. The following year he worked in the offices of the architect Thomas McNamara, and in 1905 he was attending night classes at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. There are a number of drawings by J. Clarke & Sons from the period between 1903 and 1920, which may have been designed by Harry Clarke despite lacking his signature, as they are particularly fine.

The highly expressive faces of St Columcille and St Brendan, achieved through a very free flowing use of the pen, ink and wash, indicate that a highly skilled hand, perhaps that of Harry Clarke himself, was at work in this drawing.

This drawing depicts a scene from the life of St Patrick, in which the two daughters of the King of Connaught converted to Christianity after meeting the saint. They were baptised, and died after receiving the Eucharist. The scene at the bottom of the drawing depicts the two maidens lying on their biers, mourned by the King and his noblemen. The drawing uses intricate interlace and Celtic revival motifs as framing devices, which were particularly popular during the early part of the 20th century in Ireland.

Detail of the scene at the bottom of the design showing the two dead maidens. There are beautifully observed details in this section, from the painstakingly depicted footwear of the King and the noblemen, to the way the wind is blowing on the candles' flames, which again indicate that a very skilled artist, perhaps the young Harry Clarke, carried out the design.

Little is known about the purpose or the creator of this drawing. The romantic feel of the scene and its small size (9 x 13.2 cm) indicate it may have been an illustration for a book, with a tentative attribution to Harry Clarke.

Watercolour, pencil and white gouache were used to create this tiny drawing. Notice the delicate lines in brown watercolour that the artist used to convey the separate strands of the young woman's hair, and the blurry features on her face: eyes, eyebrows, nose and lips.

Colour design for memorial window with tracery for the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock in South Kensington, London.
A photograph of the final design for this window bears the following inscription:
"This window has been erected by the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 2nd B[attalio]N Irish Guards in loving and grateful memory of Major the Rev. S. S. Knapp O.D.C. O.S.O. M.C., for two years of war their devoted chaplain who died of woundes received at Boesinghe Flanders on Aug. 1st 1917. May he rest in peace. A perpetual monthly Mass has also been founded for the souls of Irish Guardsmen who fell during the war."
The church in South Kensington, a Gothic revival building designed by the English architect and designer Augustus Welby Pugin, was destroyed by German incendiary bombs on 20 February, 1944.

Detail of the colour design for the memorial window in South Kensington. The careful attention to detail makes this scene particularly poignant. For instance, the details of the soldier's uniforms have been painstakingly rendered, and it is striking that underneath the Reverend's chasuble one can see the cuffs and collar of his uniform's jacket. He is also wearing soldier's boots. The smoke and flames of the burning buildings in the background, so close to the head of the horse, lend drama to the scene. This was an important commission carried out in 1918, after Harry Clarke had already completed the Honan Chapel windows in Cork, and it is very likely that he had a hand in the design.

The Harry Clarke years
Joshua Clarke died in 1921, and after that his two sons, Walter and Harry, took over the running of the firm. By this time, Harry had become a highly successful artist in his own right. The ten years between 1921 and 1931 were a period of intense activity both for Clarke personally, and for the firm, which eventually had a very negative effect on Harry’s health. Trinity College Dublin’s archive contains several designs dating from this period. Some of them are still in a very traditional vein, while the later designs clearly bear the hallmarks of Harry Clarke’s style.

This pencil drawing is attributed to Philip Deegan, one of Harry Clarke's assistants. During the years between 1921 and 1931 the Studios were extremely busy, and used several highly skilled assistants to carry out the commissions in which they were involved. It is clear from the order books and correspondence that the commission for Lady Dillon in Skryne Church was handled by Harry Clarke. However, this formal presentation drawing was completed by Deegan, rather than by Clarke himself. Nevertheless, Christ's elongated figure with the long, tapering fingers and the jewel-like decoration of the medallions on the sides are particularly reminiscent of Clarke's distinctive style.

This is a colour scheme for the window of the Ascension of Christ in Skryne Church. Colour schemes were created to give an indication of how the blocks of colour would appear in the stained glass windows. However, the Studios were always at pains to indicate to their clients that these colour sketches could never convey the final effect of the actual stained glass in the church.

Detail of the colour scheme for the Ascension of Christ. This medallion to the left of the central figure shows one of Christ's miracles: the Resurrection of Lazarus. Colour schemes are always exciting because paint is handled very freely in them. The narrative is conveyed through very few but carefully placed brushstrokes: the figure of Christ is recognisable through the cross-like red lines on his nimbus, and we know the figure standing to his right is Lazarus because of the very sketchy touches of white gouache and grey watercolour of the mummified corpse that Christ was raising from the dead.

Edmund Arrowsmith was a Jesuit priest, arrested and sentenced to death in England during the 17th-century persecution of Catholics. He was hung, drawn and quartered at Lancaster in 1628, and he was beatified in 1629. His hand had been preserved by the Arrowsmith family as a relic, which now rests at his church in Ashton-in-Makersfield, hence the very prominent drawing of a hand at the centre of this design.

Colour scheme for Edmund Arrowsmith's stained glass window at Ashton-in-Makerfield. Despite the very free blocks of colour used in this design, it still manages to convey the main features of the previous drawing.

Close-up detail of colour scheme for Edmund Arrowsmith's stained glass window at Ashton-in-Makersfield. The freedom with which the colour has been applied makes this design effective even as an abstract painting.

Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd: 1931-1973
Harry Clarke died on January 6, 1931. After his death his wife, Margaret Clarke, run the firm in conjunction with a series of highly talented studio managers, until her death in 1961. After that, Harry’s sisters Dolly and Lally Clarke run the administrative side of the business. The firm closed down in 1973. In 1930 the firm had been renamed Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd., and for many years afterwards, it produced designs which replicated Harry Clarke’s style, quite likely because clients requested it. Figures had elongated faces and fingers and pointed feet, and compositions were highly influenced by the Symbolist art movement.

Detail of colour scheme for St Brendan's window. The motif of the tiny sail boat inscribed inside a medallion harks back to prior designs and book illustrations by Harry Clarke, perpetuating Clarke's style even after his death.

The elongated figures of St Joseph and the Virgin Mary, their elegant hands, pointed feet and spiral motifs in the decoration of the symbols at the bottom are reproducing key elements of Harry Clarke's style, indicating that this design was made in the decade after his death.

The jewel-like dabs of pigment in the robes of St Joseph and the Virgin Mary are reminiscent of Harry Clarke's book illustrations. The watercolour stains on the sides of the design testify to the painstaking manner in which colours were tested and mixed in these designs.

Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd was not simply a stained glass firm: they also worked in other media, as can be seen in this opus sectile design (where the materials are cut and inlaid) of the 12th Station of the Cross.

Printed calendar for 1938 showing the Madonna and Child in a style reminiscent of Art Deco.

The firm worked extensively outside Ireland, and this fact is reflected in the material in the Archive, which sometimes includes photographs of Irish missionaries in African countries, sent to the firm by their clients. The designs also reflected the culture of the commissioning church, as can be seen in the next two drawings for stained glass windows.

The twelve African saints in this pencil drawing indicate that the window may have been commissioned by a missionary religious order, either for a church in Ireland or another Western country, or possibly for an African church.

This tinted pencil drawing also includes twelve African saints, and may indicate that the commission was linked to missionaries in Africa.

Close up detail. From left to right: African saints at the top, St Peter (identified by his attributes, the keys of heaven), St Patrick (with his attribute the shamrock), and St Thérese de Lisieux (with her attributes the cross and roses).

The materials in the Clarke Collection often show the process of how an artwork evolves from the pencil sketches to the final window. The process starts with a pencil sketch, which then becomes a much more finished pencil drawing. Then there is usually a colour scheme, which shows how the blocks of coloured glass will appear on the window. Finally, a very detailed colour design in pencil, pen, ink, watercolour and gouache may be sent to the client. This pencil drawing shows the central section of a five-light stained glass window of Jesuit saints flanking the Virgin Mary, for the chapel of Belvedere College in North Dublin, the Jesuit school that Harry Clarke attended as a child.

The colour scheme for the Belvedere College windows offers a guide for the colour range that will be present, but cannot begin to convey how the light will interact with the stained glass to create the rich colours of the actual windows.

Colour design for Belvedere College windows, offering more clarity about the saints depicted in the window: the two Jesuit saints, St Stanislaus Kotska on the left and St Aloysius Gonzaga on the right are holding a band of blue cloth that unites the three panels, with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child in the centre. The profuse decorative elements that cover every surface of the design reference Harry Clarke's highly ornamental style. However, the actual colours bear little resemblance to the final window.

Finished stained glass window in the chapel of Belvedere College in North Dublin.

In the 1960s and the 1970s, the Clarke Studios incorporated more modern elements into their designs. This was not always to the taste of their clients, as can be seen in the design for a window at Cork Cathedral, which was rejected.

The notes at the bottom of this design indicate that it was initially approved by the patrons in Cork cathedral, but eventually rejected. Was it perhaps too 'modern'?

This is one of the few designs by the hand of Harry Clarke's son, David Clarke, who was a painter in his own right and died in 2006.

Marta Bustillo
Credits: Story


Imaging: Joanne Carroll, Digital Resources and Imaging Services.

Curation and text: Marta Bustillo, Digital Resources and Imaging Services.

Exhibition framework and technical assistance: Greg Sheaf, Digital Systems and Services.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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