Margaret Clarke's portrait work steps out of the stained glass shadows

Margaret Clarke was a key figure in Irish art and a new show illustrates how her portraits deserve greater recognition beyond her partnership with Harry Clarke

Self-portrait, 1914, by Margaret Clarke. Copyright the artist’s estate

Self-portrait, 1914, by Margaret Clarke. Copyright the artist’s estate

By any standard, the artist Margaret Clarke, nee Crilly, was a high achiever. She was born in Newry, Co Down, in 1884 to a family in which learning was valued. She became a primary school teacher but nurtured an ambition to teach art. To that end, she first attended night classes at Newry technical school before winning a scholarship to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where successive scholarships carried her through her studies.

William Orpen was a visiting teacher when she was there and he was evidently impressed. He had bought a piece of work by her, and employed her as his teaching assistant, by the time she was 22. In the next two years she won two gold medals for her painting. When Orpen moved on, she took over as a teacher in the life room.

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