Art in focus: Madeline, St Agnes’s Charmed Maid by Harry Clarke

The work is not on permanent display, so now is your chance to see it

Harry Clarke, Madeline, St Agnes’s charmed maid (detail), design for the Eve of St Agnes window, circa 1923. Collection: Crawford Art Gallery

Harry Clarke, Madeline, St Agnes’s charmed maid (detail), design for the Eve of St Agnes window, circa 1923. Collection: Crawford Art Gallery

 

What is it?

Madeline, St Agnes’s charmed maid

How was it done? More a drawing with a watercolour wash than a watercolour per se, it is part of his preparatory work for a major commission. Approached by businessman Harold Jacob (of Jacob’s biscuits), who wanted something outside of the ordinary domestic stained-glass window for his Ailesbury Road house, Clarke leaped

at the chance. He first dissuaded Jacob from his more general thematic ideas with a counterproposal offering a choice of literary sources, including John Keats’s 42-stanza poem with a medieval setting, The Eve of St Agnes.

Given the go-ahead, he devised a challengingly elaborate design of 22 small leaded panels, each derived from a specific part of the poem’s narrative (the relevant lines are inscribed at the base of each panel). Clarke was a brilliant illustrator, and the visualisations he created in the preliminary graphic works form the essence of the finished window, but are noticeably freer than the densely patterned, intensely coloured glass panels. Kathleen Quigley worked with him on the actual panels, which amount to a tour de force of stained-glass technique. It is in the collection of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, where it is a perennial public favourite.  

Where can I see it?

Dreaming in Blue: Harry Clarke Watercolours crawfrodartgallery.ieHarry Clarke: Darkness in Light

Is it a typical work by the artist?

Sadly, the tragically short-lived Clarke was increasingly unwell during the 1920s as tuberculosis, which eventually killed him, took its toll. Despite illness, he was extremely productive as an artist and his reputation, always secure, continues to grow.

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