Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Eve of St. Agnes - Harry Clarke's Greatest Collection

Back in 1981 I recall visiting the National Gallery in Dublin's Parnell Square. I walked into a dark room and unexpectedly witnessed the most beautiful and profound works of art I had ever seen. In this tranquil darkness was a stunning sequence of backlit stain glass panels depicting the story in the John Keats poem "The Eve of St. Agnes". At the time I knew nothing of the genius behind the works - Irish artist Harry Clarke. I was mesmerised by the deep colours and especially his use of rich light and dark blue tones. The figures and details in each panel moved me so much. I loved the immersion and challenge of studying the intriguing fable unfolding in each image. I was in a surreal fairlytale world from a different era.

At the time I was a keen photographer and was particularly enjoying slide photography. I instantly knew that these wonderful stain glass images would look amazing blown up on a big projection screen. Slide photography really shows off the fine subtle colour variations in dark images.

I will spare readers details of the efforts I made in the following months via contacts to get permission to photograph "The Eve of St. Agnes" collection. Sadly it didn't happen.

Today my love of Harry Clarke's stained glass was rekindled at my local library. I have out on loan a beautifully illustrated large book called "Strangest Genius - the stained glass of Harry Clarke" by Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen. It's a terrific book and has revitalised my love of the magical Eve of St. Agnes and indeed all of Harry Clarke's stain glass art. Many of his other works appear in churches throughout Ireland.

As I write I'm amused at the serendipity that today, 20th January, actually is the eve of the feast of St Agnes! You should Google the intriguing legend relating to the Eve of St. Agnes - all to do with maidens going to sleep and having visions of their future husband. The John Keats poem of same name is very worthy of a read and of course Harry Clarke is following the storyline of the poem in this stained glass art collection.