Harry Clarke (1889-1931)
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Harry Clarke (1889-1931)

An illustration for The Little Sea Maid from 'Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson illustrated by Harry Clarke'

Harry Clarke (1889-1931)
An illustration for The Little Sea Maid from 'Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson illustrated by Harry Clarke'
signed 'HARRY/CLARKE.' (lower right) and further signed and inscribed 'The Little Sea Maid/'She danced with such a step and/air as none had ever done before'/Harry Clarke' (on the backing sheet) and numbered '26' (centre right)
pencil, pen and black ink, and watercolour and bodycolour, with gum arabic, oval
18¼ x 13 in. (46.4 x 33 cm.)
Alfred I. du Pont, Delaware and by descent in the family.
N. Gordon Bowe, Harry Clarke, Dublin, 1979, cat. no. 22.
N. Gordon Bowe, The Life and Work of Harry Clarke, Dublin, 1989, cat. no. 27.
M.M. Steenson, A Bibliographical Checklist of the work of Harry Clarke, London, 2003.
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Lot Essay

Shortly before Christmas 1913, the 24 year old Harry Clarke, fresh from a prize-winning career at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, was given his first major book- illustrating commission by George Harrap of the well-known London publishers. This prestigious job was to produce 40 full page illustrations for various special and trade editions of Hans Andersen's popular stories, some signed, limited and bound in vellum, others boxed and bound in leather or in cloth. Sixteen illustrations were to be in colour, the rest in black and white, with sixteen additional decorative embellishments; he was to be paid 200 guineas in installments. After working very hard to a scrupulously recorded timetabled routine in London, Dublin and in France, Clarke completed the job in April 1915. The book was published to acclaim in the autumn of 1916 and ran into a number of subsequent editions, some published by Harraps, others pirated.

Harraps' American publishing partners, Brentano's of New York, exhibited all Clarke's original illustrations in their bookshop on Fifth Avenue, and took regular consignments of his original artwork for sale. This was just as well as whatever original artwork by Clarke that had remained in Harraps' London premises was destroyed in the Blitz. Original coloured illustrations by Harry Clarke, especially those for Hans Andersen, are therefore extremely rare.

This exquisite oval illustration uses a miniature technique which became a hallmark of Clarke's art, displaying his fanciful interest in 18th century dress and Japanese design as well as the whitened complexions and elaborate red-haired coiffures of the Elizabethan miniature. The abstracted cypress tree backdrop is patterned with the floral ornament which can be found incorporated into his stained glass. It shows the tragic scene where the most beautiful of the Sea Princesses has emerged from the ocean, having fallen in love with a young Prince whom she has saved from drowning, and has traded her royal submarine life, her wonderful voice and her mermaid's fishtail for the excruciatingly painful legs that will enable her to dance enchantingly yet agonizingly in the hope of enchanting him. She is seen dressed in "splendid clothes of silk and muslin lifting her beautiful white arms.. on the tips of her toes, .. dancing over the floor as no one had yet danced although every time she touched the earth it seemed as it she were treading upon sharp knives".

Clarke worked on an earlier coloured illustration of another scene from the same story in London in January 1914, which was ultimately not used and remained in his family's collection. The present drawing dates from 1915. The unpublished version was included in the exhibition Harry Clarke November - December 1979 at Trinity College, Dublin, no. 22, whose catalogue entry refers to the current version, whereabouts unknown until recently.

We are grateful to Nicola Gordon Bowe for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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