There are few originals, but Harry Clarke most certainly was one of that rare breed. He was the third child of Henry Clarke (decorator from Leeds) who arrived in Dublin in 1877 and his wife, Brigid, and was born on St Patrick’s Day 1889.
He attended Model School (Marlborough Street) before going to nearby Belvedere College. After leaving in 1905 he took up an apprenticeship in his father’s studio, that by now had added a stained-glass section. Work was tough and his skills were soon noted in the Dublin Art School where he went to evening classes. In 1910 he work was recognised countrywide for the first time when his The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, by St Patrick won the gold medal for stained-glass work in the Board of Education National Competition.
Shortly afterwards he went to London and where he worked as a book illustrator for the publisher Harrap & Co. Here he was able to transfer his skill of working in glass and his first printed work was Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen’s. Next was a set of illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a work so brilliantly done that Clarke’s reputation as an illustrator was assured.
When his father died in 1921, Harry and his brother Walter took over the studio at 6 North Frederick Street, and produced more than 160 stained-glass windows for both commercial and religious commissions. His work suffuses strong, bright colours and the brilliant drawing of elongated, expressive figures is breathtaking, especially when backlit by strong sunshine. The use of such colour was something that he loved having been influenced by the great stained-glass windows at Chartres Cathedral. Some of his work that is seen by thousands, on a daily basis, are his windows on the ground-floor in Bewleys Café on Grafton Street. Also, his pieces in the Hugh Lane Gallery are real favourites. As his fame grew he received commissions from England, America and Australia and he worked tirelessly in the smoky studio.
Clarke suffered with lung problems all his life so the studio environment was bad for him. He continued and was finally diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1929. While returning to Dublin from a sanatorium in Davos, Clarke died in Chur (Switzerland) on 6th January 1931, where he is buried. He was only 41.