The Best of Harry Clarke - Myth, Fable and Fairy Tale art from "The Golden Age of Illustration"
Harry Clarke (1889-1931) was a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and is best known for his stained glass designs and book illustrations. In respect of his book illustrations, he is one of the artists associated with "The Golden Age of Illustration".
Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1916) was his first published work, although he had previously been working on illustrations to accompany Coleridge's ''Rime of the Ancient Mariner'' (that was destroyed in Dublin's devastating 1916 Easter Uprising). A number of commissions followed Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1916), including The Year's at the Spring (1920), The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1922), two effective First Editions of Tales of Mystery and Imagination (the first, being the 1919 Edition carried monotone designs only, while the subsequent 1923 Edition carried a complete color and monotone suite).
His second to last project, Faust (1925) is considered his most important as it is a precursor to the evocative psychedelic imagery that has come to be associated with artwork from the 1960s. Selected Poems of Algernon Swinburne (1928) was his final commission and, due to the licentious nature of Clarke's illustrations, that title was banned in Ireland.
In parallel with his book illustration projects, Harry Clarke also prepared other works, including Stained Glass panels and installations to various commissions. One such project was his set of panels inspired by Synge's "Queens" - that was completed in 1917.
While we have provided links for various products available through Amazon throughout this Hub, you may also like to consider the wider range available at the Harry Clarke Collection shown at the 'Spirit of the Ages' Museum.
Harry Clarke's illustrations for "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
An Edition of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" was to have been Harry Clark'e first illustrated book and it is believed to have been planned for publication by Maunsel & Co. (Dublin and London) at some time within 1916.
The illustration shown above - on of the few surviving illustrations from Clarke's prospective suite for that publication - is associated with the following text:
"The Souls did from their bodies fly, - they fled to Bliss or Woe! And every Soul, it passed me by, like the whizz of my cross-bow!".
Clarke had been designing the illustrations since at least as early as 1913, but prior to publication, much of the work was destroyed in Dublin's devastating 1916 Easter Uprising and the project was abandoned.
Harry Clarke's illustrations for "Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson" (1916)
Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson (1916) was Harry Clarke's first published commission and his color and monotone work for this title represents a stunning debut as a book illustrator.
The First Edition may be identified readily by the publishing citation showing the address of George G Harrap & Co. Ltd. (London) as 2 & 3 Portsmouth St, Kingsway WC. Published in 1916, printing for that edition was undertaken by The Complete Press at West Norwood (England).
The color illustrations (16 in total) prepared by Clarke are brilliantly loaded with detail, a wonderfully eclectic and rich palate and his characteristic unique line and form. His monotone contributions are similarly masterful.
The titles of Clarke's color illustrations for Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson (1916) follow:
- "There sat the dog with eyes as big as teacups";
- "She should be Queen of all the Flowers";
- "Let him have his head cut off";
- "Oh, How well they look! How capitally they fit!";
- "'Tin Soldier!' said the Goblin, 'Don't stare at things that don't concern you'";
- "The Storks";
- "'Have you really courage to go into the wide World with me?' asked the Chimney-Sweeper";
- "On the grave of the Prince's father there grew a Rose-bush";
- "Kay and the Snow Queen";
- "She is fat - she is pretty - she is fed with nut-kernels!";
- "The artificial bird had its place on a silken cushion close to the Emperor's bed";
- "They danced with shawls that were woven of mist and moonshine";
- "Dancing over the floor as no one had yet danced";
- "The whole day they flew onward through the air";
- "She was once more a beauteous maiden"; and
- "'Now we will begin our dances!' cried the fairies".
Harry Clarke's Stained Glass suite inspired by Synge's "Queens" (1917)
In 1917 Harry Clarke completed a commission from The Rt Hon Laurence Waldron PC for a set of stained glass to accompany the words within Synge's "Queens".
Designed to be hung from left to right in the library windows of Waldron's Killiney Bay house, the first and last panels were stained and painted on kelp-coated clear glass. The remaining panels were wax and acid-etched out of flashed blue, ruby or gold-pink pot-metal glass in addition to being stained and painted. Clarke signed or initialed each panel.
The panel shown here is associated with the following passage from "Queens":
"Queens of Sheba, Meath and Connaught,
Coifed with crown, or gaudy bonnet".
For an exhibition of the panels at Dublin's Municipal Gallery of Modern Art between 1925 and 1928, Clarke customized a wrought iron stand to display the panels to best effect when not insitu at Waldron's Killiney Bay property.
Harry Clarke's illustrations for "The Year's at the Spring" (1920)
The Year's at the Spring (1920) is an illustrated anthology drawing on the collective work of 32 different authors. Deliberately selected by Walters to be conspicuously modern, as noted by Monro in the Foreword, "all except eight of its authors are living and writing ... [and of] those eight, five died as soldiers in the European War, and are represented mainly by what is known as 'War poetry'". Despite the timing of the anthology following closely upon the end of World War I, the 'War poetry' genre is not the focus of the anthology, but instead, as Monro identifies, is "about the earth itself and all the strange and lovely things that compose and inhabit it ... as a whole, [it] is romantic, its language is simple; its philosophy is that of everyday life, and [it] is entirely undisturbing".
Clarke's color and monotone work for this commission shows significant differences from his earlier illustrations, but remains engaging and complements the simple romantic words of the accompanying poetry.
The titles of Clarke's color illustrations for The Year's at the Spring (1920) follow:
- "And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow";
- "I bring for you, aglint with dew, a little lovely dream";
- "With monstrous head and sickening cry and ears like errant wings";
- "With a dead hidalgo's daughter, as a dower for the Dey";
- "Demi-silked, dark-haired musicians";
- "All time's delight hath she for narrow bed";
- "She walks - the lady of my delight - a shepherdess of sheep";
- "Honor has come back, as a king, to earth";
- "And the dead robed in red and sea-lilies overhead sway when the long winds blow";
- "Give me your beads. I desire them. No.";
- "They'll set the realms of Fairyland all dancing with delight"; and
- "I am born of a thousand storms, and grey with the rushing rains".
Harry Clarke's illustrations for "The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault" (1922)
The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1922) was co-published by George G Harrap & Co. Ltd (London) and Dodge Publishing Co. (New York). Regardless of the publishing citation, all copies of the First Edition were printed by Turnbull & Spears (Edinburgh).
Clarke produced a sumptuous variety of illustrations for this commission, including 12 color images, a further 12 major monotone illustrations and a range of marginal monotone images for decorations including the Titles and Chapter headings and end-pieces.
The titles of Clarke's color illustrations for The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1922) follow:
- "'Where does your Grandmother live?' asked the wolf";
- "Madam must get her own water";
- "Unfortunately the rich man had a blue beard";
- "Then an old farmer took her orders";
- "He sees the young Princess on the bed";
- "The Marquis presented the Princess to the poor";
- "The best hairdresser had come";
- "Cinderella and her Prince";
- "Riquet with the Tuft appeared to her like a normal man";
- "He led them home again";
- "A long thick sausage came shuffling along up to her";
- "Curiosity caused him to peek through the key-hole".
Harry Clarke's illustrations for "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (1923)
Clarke's suite of illustrations for a collected work of Edgar Allan Poe - "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" - is arguably the first to include examples of Harry Clarke's chillingly darker illustrations. To create a 'First Edition' for Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1923), a further 8 colour designs by Clarke were published with the monotone suite that had been published in 1919.
The titles of Clarke's color illustrations for Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1923) follow:
- "The colossal waters rear their heads above us like demons of the deep";
- "An attachment which seemed to attain new strength";
- "And now slowly opened the eyes of the figure which stood before me";
- "Say, rather, the rending of her coffin";
- "It was the most noisome quarter of London";
- "His rooms became notorious through the charms of the sprightly grisette";
- "In death we have both learned the propensity of man to define the idefineable";
- "He shrieked once - once only".
Harry Clarke's illustrations for "Faust" (1925)
Goethe's rendition of "Faust" is the most known version of Faustian literature. It is composed as a play, but belongs to the genre of 'Closet Drama', indicating that, rather than being performed, it is meant to be read. The main characters include: Faust (a character that has been linked to both the historical life of Johann Georg Faust and Bidermann's Legend of the Doctor of Paris); Mephistopheles; Gretchen (Faust's love); Marthe (Gretchen's neighbor); Valentin (Gretchen's brother); and Wagner (Faust's famulus). Faust tells the story of what follows from a wager between Mephistopheles and God the results in the arch-villain trying to deflect God's favorite human - Faust - who is striving to learn everything that can be known, away from righteous pursuits.
Clarke's contribution to Faust (1925) is reminiscent of his darker illustrations - most noticeably those he contributed to Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1923) - but move beyond the horrific to the outright weird. Stylistically, the work is both superb and - historically - an important influence on the psychedelic that became well known during the 1960s.
The titles of Clarke's color illustrations for Faust (1925) follow:
- "Dearest and best, with my whole heart I love thee";
- "Is there anything in my poor power to serve you?";
- "Clustering grapes invite the hand";
- "Methinks, a million fools in choir are raving and will never tire";
- "Drest thus, I seem a different creature!";
- "I'll fly from this place, with one bound, to Hell, or anywhere, to leave 'em";
- "Forward! Forward! - Faster! Faster!"; and
- "Come - she is judged!".
Harry Clarke's illustrations for "Selected Poems of Algernon Swinburne" (1928)
Clarke's monotone work for Selected Poems of Algernon Swinburne (1928) is deliciously dark and sensuous - it is the quintessence of his style. Undoubtedly, his unrestrained approach throughout his suite of illustrations for this work was responsible - in no small part - for the equivocal reception of the images upon release. In Clark'e native Ireland, for example, the illustrations were considered so provocative at the time of publication that the title was banned.