Celebrating Irish Artist Harry Clarke

One of Ireland’s most renowned artists, Harry Clarke, is celebrated in the first of a series of Library online exhibitions which will be showcased in this extended period of self-isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Clarke Stained Glass Studios Collection is for anyone interested in 20th-century Irish art and craft as exemplified by the creative genius of the leading exponent of stained glass work, Harry Clarke.

The Clarke Stained Glass Studios in Dublin was responsible for hundreds of stained glass windows for churches all over Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada, Africa and Asia for over 80 years. Harry Clarke is one of the most highly regarded Irish artists of the 20th century and was at the helm of the family business between the years 1921 and his death in 1931.

The Clarke Stained Glass Studios Collection available on Google Cultural Institute features 26 images including beautiful pencil drawings, ink and colour wash designs, photographs and business correspondence drawn from the Studio’s archive, which is now held in the Library.

A much larger digital resource, featuring some 15,000 items from the archive including stained glass designs, architects’ blueprints, photographs, commissioning letters, order books and financial records, is also available online to researchers and the general public through Trinity’s Digital Collections. While only a few original designs by the hand of Harry Clarke survive in the archive, the Studio’s designs resonate with his influence.

About the Clarke Stained Glass Studios Collection

The Clarke Stained Glass Studios archive contains stained glass designs, colour schemes, opus sectile designs, architects’ blueprints and plans, photographs, documentation about sales and orders, correspondence, financial records, staffing records, and research documentation related to stained glass work executed by the Clarke Studios, Dublin from 1893 to 1973.

Joshua Clarke moved to Ireland from Leeds in 1877, and initially worked with a firm of ecclesiastical suppliers. By 1887 Clarke had established his own business as a church decorator, had married Bridget McGonigal, and was running his business from leased premises at 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.

Joshua and Bridget Clarke’s eldest son Walter was born in 1888 and Harry was born on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 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 firm even before leaving school. Harry worked as an apprentice draughtsman for the architect Thomas McNamara in 1904; in 1905 he attended 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, despite lacking his signature, may have been designed by Harry Clarke, as they are particularly fine.

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, having completed the windows for the Honan Chapel in Cork. 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’s archive contains several designs dating from this period.

By 1930 the firm had been renamed Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd. Although Harry Clarke died on January 6, 1931, for many years afterwards the Clarke Studios produced designs which replicated Harry Clarke’s style, quite likely because clients themselves requested it. In the 1960s and 1970s the Studios incorporated more modern elements into their designs. The materials in the Clarke Collection often show the process by which an artwork evolved from the ideas of the client, to pencil sketches, and the final colour design.

After Harry’s death his wife Margaret Clarke ran the firm assisted by a series of highly talented studio managers until her own death in 1961. Harry’s sisters Dolly and Lally Clarke managed the administrative side of the business.

The firm worked extensively outside Ireland, this being reflected in the material in the archive, which documents commissions in the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and several African countries. The firm closed down in 1973.

The business archive was donated to Trinity College Library by the Clarke family in 1973, and the design archive was acquired by Trinity College Library from David Clarke in October 2002.

St Stanislaus, Our Lady and St Aloysius, Chapel of Belvedere College, Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd 1934