Thursday, 8 September 2011

Illustrators - Harry Clarke

In my early 20's, I bought a lovely copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe, at Sainsbury's Books in Camberwell.  I was drawn to it because of the magnificent black and white illustrations, in a style reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley.


The illustrator turned out to be Harry Clarke, and Irish stained-glass artist and book illustrator who was a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement.

 The Little Mermaid

Born in 1889, the son of a stained-glass craftsman, he began studying stained glass in Dublin when he was a teenager, winning prizes for his work.  Despite his successes, he began working as a book illustrator.  Clarke's first completed commission was for Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, which was published in 1916.

 The Pit and the Pendulum

This was followed shortly by Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Poe.  The illustrations are much darker than Beardsley's, with incredibly detailed backgrounds and a lot of black.

Some of them, like this illustration for The Masque of Red Death, are quite morbid.

I particularly like this one, with the man buried alive underground, and the tree roots and other coffins.  Delightfully gothic!

Clarke also illustrated The Years at the Spring by Lettice d'O Walters (1920), Fairy Tales of Perrault (1922), Goethe's Faust (1925), and Selected Poems by Swinburne (1928).  The Faust contains some fantstic images, including the ones above and below.

Clarke and his brother took over their father's studio after his death in 1921, so while he was working on these later books, Clarke was also working to produce over 130 stained glass windows.

 Photo by StainedGlassAustralia on Flickr

One of them is even in Australia, in St Stephen's Catholic Cathedral in Brisbane.  The window was commissioned in 1923, and is inscribed to the memory of Isaac and William Mayne (it is known as the Mayne window).

Photo by StainedGlassAustralia on Flickr

The middle window shows Christ ascending to heaven over a sunset, with Mary standing below, while the two panels to either side show the eleven apostles.

Photo by StainedGlassAustralia on Flickr
 Unfortunately, the pace of work took its toll on the two brothers, and they died within a year of each other.  Harry was the second to die, in early 1931 at the age of 42, while convalescing in Switzerland with tuberculosis.  Grandma's Graphics has scans of many of Clarke's illustrations, including all from Faust, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales.

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