Who are the greatest Irish artists? part V, Harry Clarke

Harry Clarke, 1889-1931, born Dublin, stained glass artist and book illustrator, styles broadly Art Nouveau and symbolist.

He produced over 130 stained glass windows, the majority of which are in Ireland and then England.  He was renowned for his rich, original colors and his deep blues.  The value of his work is often site-specific (it would make for a great “go around Ireland” tour), and, unlike with most paintings, a jpeg picks up only one part of the broader work. Nonetheless here is one image:

Or try this:

Still not good enough.  I don’t feel I can make a real case by giving you more images, maybe you would do better to just view a bunch en masse.  A visit to the National Gallery in Dublin is better yet.  Barring that, this excellent catalog has fine images.  Here is a good short piece on Clarke’s weirdness (“the Irish artist welded Christian, Celtic and pagan imagery with the decadence of Klimt and Beardsley into an exotic futuristic fantasy”), also with quality images.

I see a few reasons for giving Clarke serious consideration:

1. He did most of his major work in Ireland.  And his “Celtic revival” emphasis is perhaps closer in spirit to contemporary Ireland than are the Anglo-Irish backgrounds of many of the other leading contenders for best Irish artist.

2. He expresses the playful, dramatic, and rebellious sides of the Irish national spirit.

3. He is strikingly original.  Some of his work also influenced later developments in illustration and graphic novels.  He in turn drew on varied sources, including religious illustrations, Russian ballet and Russian theatre art, and the cinema.

4. The colors are memorable and the technical execution is very strong.

5. He and his studio did church stained glass for Bayonne, New Jersey.

6. You could imagine him doing a cover for a Camille Paglia book.  As it stands, he did illustrate Goethe, Swinburne, and Hans Christian Andersen.

Ultimately he seems a little too concentrated in one direction to be my top pick, and maybe my number one Irish artist shouldn’t be so…”fruity”?  But I enjoy his work greatly those (few) times I have been able to see it and I do recommend him highly.

I hope you’ll be getting the final installment in this series — my #1 pick — pretty soon.


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