I was very excited to hear that the Hugh Lane Gallery had acquired a new Harry Clarke panel. Entitled Mr Gihooley, it was intended to be part of the famous Geneva Window. This panel developed a crack and was replaced in the final piece. Harry Clarke (1889-1931) is arguably Ireland’s greatest exponent of stained glass, His meticulous technique, jewel-like colours and eeried, elongated figures are highly distinctive.
The Geneva Window (1926-30) was a late Clarke window, commissioned by the Irish government for the League of Nations building in Geneva. Clarke’s window has eight panels illustrating the works of contemporary Irish authors such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey. However, the completed window never made it to Geneva. The government were scandalised by some of Clarke’s imagery, particularly the Mr Gilhooley panel, which they wanted replaced with an alternative image. The government felt the window would cause ‘grave offence’ and considered it unsuitable to represent Ireland on an international stage. The window was owned by the Clarke family for a number of years, but is now in the Wolfsonian-Florida International University collection. I hope to get to see the full window some day, but to have a panel here in Dublin is a real treat for fans of Harry Clarke.
The Mr Gilhooley panel depicts Nelly, a character from Liam O’Flaherty’s controversial novel. She is shown dancing, scantily clad in diaphanous veils. The diagonal fall of her veils is elegant and creates a sense of motion, evoking her dance. The small panel of text from the novel reads: ‘She came towards him, dancing, moving the folds of the veil, so that they unfolded slowly, as she danced.’ Clarke’s sensuous image of this dancing, semi-naked woman created similar consternation as the novel. The crack that developed in the piece is evident in the leading across Nelly’s soldiers. The fine detail in the paintwork is reminiscent of Clarke’s intricrate illustrations for Andersen, Poe and Perrault.
The panel is a fine example of Clarke’s masterful aciding technique and the colour is exquisite. This aciding technique is also why Clarke’s windows are so fragile. Nelly’s veils are flame-like and delicate, decorated with little patterns and beading. Clarke’s windows are immediately recognisable for their richness of colour, with rose-gold dominant here. The pinks, yellows and reds create a warm, even fiery, image, Nelly’s hair seems to glow. Her body, in contrast, seems to be almost grisaille, making her a statuesque figure. Nelly’s graceful, elongated form is typical of Clarke’s style, showing the influence of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations.
In the Hugh Lane Gallery this panel is displayed in the stained glass room which features Clarke’s The Eve of St Agnes (1924) and windows by artists including Evie Hone and Wilhelmina Geddes. The windows in this room are in a variety of styles and show the breadth and wealth of skill in Irish stained glass.