Brian Clarke, widely recognised as one of the world's leading stained glass artists, was the winning bidder of Harry Clarke's 1921 stained glass panel – Bluebeard's Last Wife – at Adam's of St Stephen's Green Important Irish Art sale on March 24th. The panel, set in a James Hicks walnut and mahogany cabinet, achieved double its lower estimate of €80,000, selling for €165,000.
Brian Clarke, no relation of Harry, said: "By any standard, Harry Clarke is an artist of international and historical significance. I'm thrilled that this masterpiece of Irish art has now joined the collection. He had an originality and poetic purpose that was rivalled only by his great literary peers in Dublin at the time."
Clarke, who has strong ties with Dublin, was the executor for the estate of artist Francis Bacon and, with the artist's heir John Edwards, was involved in the transfer of Bacon's studio and its 7,000 objects to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin in 1998, where it is installed on permanent display.
He gravitated towards the medium of stained glass in his late teens, when his then girlfriend – the daughter of a clergyman – showed him an inspirational church window. After studying the technique at Oldham School of Arts and Crafts, he came to prominence in the 1970s during the punk movement.
Fifty years on, the artist has collaborated with architects all around the world. In 2004, with British architect Norman Foster, Clarke's work was featured on the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a landmark building in Kazakhstan. Other works of his can be found in the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Sezon Museum of Modern Art in Japan and the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.
‘Greatest art in our civilisation’
When the arts were separated in the 20th century, some argued that stained glass should be classified as a craft, but as Clarke said in an interview in the Financial Times in 2018: "Stained glass has undoubtedly provided some of the greatest art in our civilisation from pharaonic times. Many of the greatest artists have been intensely involved with stained glass". Citing Mondrian, de Kooning, Le Corbusier, Matisse and Max Ernst, Clarke says some of their greatest works have been in stained glass.
His many accolades include a seven-year term as chairman of the Architecture Foundation, time spent as a visiting professor of architectural art at the Bartlett School of Architecture and he is an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Art.
Harry Clarke's artwork will become part of the Brian Clarke Collection of Stained Glass, which comprises more than 600 works of stained glass and stained glass designs from the 12th century to the present day.
With a focus on modernism and the avant-garde, Bluebeard's Last Wife will take its place alongside original works from Matisse, Cocteau, Georges Braque, Le Corbusier,Theo van Doesburg, Frank Lloyd Wright, Leger and John Piper. It is Clarke's intention that the entire collection will ultimately be bequeathed as a gift for public display.
I think Harry would most certainly have approved of his work’s new home.