Edgar Allan Poe and Harry Clarke – Our Inspiration

Clarke’s illustration to ‘The murders in the Rue Morgue’ from Poe’s Tales of mystery and imagination (London, 1919), OLS X-2-586.

Clarke’s illustration to ‘The murders in the Rue Morgue’ from Poe’s Tales of mystery and imagination (London, 1919), OLS X-2-586.

The title of our blog is inspired by a staff favourite here in the Department of Early Printed Books & Special Collections – the 1919 edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of mystery and imagination illustrated by the ever popular Harry Clarke.

While Clarke (1889 – 1931) is renowned for his ecclesiastical decorations in stained glass, he achieved international acclaim as an illustrator of books, a medium suited to his graphic art in black and white. In 1913, after failing to impress a number of London publishers with his portfolio, the Irish artist met George Harrap who immediately commissioned illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy tales.

Harrap’s publishing house established a lengthy collaboration with Clarke, the artist often selecting the books that would showcase his talent. Notable first editions in the Department of Early Printed Books illustrated by Clarke include Andersen’s Fairy tales published in 1916 and Poe’s Tales (London, 1919).

Clark’s colour frontispiece to the reissue of Poe’s Tales (London and New York, [1924]), OLS X-2-585.

Clark’s colour frontispiece to the reissue of Poe’s Tales (London and New York, [1924]), OLS X-2-585.

In a contemporary review of the latter Clarke’s friend and critic Thomas Bodkin wrote ‘Mr. Clarke gives full rein to his talent for the macabre, the fantastic and the terrible, … it is safe to predict that no one will ever produce more striking effects in black and white’ (Irish Statesman, 13 December 1919). The book’s success prompted a later reissue with 8 additional colour plates.

Illustrations followed in 1920 for The year’s at the spring: an anthology of recent poetry selected by Lettice d’Oyly Walters, for The fairy tales of Charles Perrault in 1922, and for Goethe’s Faust in 1925.

In addition to the items above, the Department holds an 8-volume limited edition set of Ireland’s memorial records 1914-1918, printed privately in Dublin in 1923 with decorative borders by Clarke. Other examples of his graphic art include illustrations for Origin of John Jameson whiskey (Dublin, 1924) and a chilling frontispiece to Dublin of the future: the new town plan (Liverpool & London, 1922). Clarke’s final book illustrations were published by John Lane, the Bodley Head, for Selected poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne (London & New York, 1928).

For further reading see Nicola Gordan Bowe’s seminal work Harry Clarke: his graphic art (Mountrath & Los Angeles, 1983). The Library’s online exhibition The Clarke Stained Glass Studios features images from the business archive of Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd which is held in our Manuscripts & Archives department. The National Gallery of Ireland also has a beautiful online collection of his work.