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Harry Clarke, R.H.A. (1889-1931)
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Harry Clarke, R.H.A. (1889-1931)

The Mother of Sorrows, Memorial to Sister Superior Mary of Saint Wilfrid, Principal of Dowanhill Training College, Glasgow, 1926

Harry Clarke, R.H.A. (1889-1931)
The Mother of Sorrows, Memorial to Sister Superior Mary of Saint Wilfrid, Principal of Dowanhill Training College, Glasgow, 1926
three-light glass window, leaded, stained, acided and painted
129 in. (328 cm.) high
Commissioned for the Sacred Heart Chapel, Convent of Notre Dame, Dowanhill, Glasgow; moved to Notre Dame College of Education, Bearsden, Glasgow in 1979.
N. Gordon Bowe, The Life and Work of Harry Clarke, Dublin, 1989, pp. 193, 201 and 250.
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Lot Essay

In March 1922, Sister Superior Mary of Saint Wilfrid commissioned Harry Clarke to make a large three-light stained glass window, The Coronation of the Blesed Virgin Mary for the convent chapel at the educational training college in Glasgow, of which she was Principal. It was to be in memory of victims of the 1914-1918 war. Such was its success that she commissioned the present magnificent three-light window from Clarke in 1926 to be a further war memorial, the same size as its predecessor (and for the same cost of £450). It was conceived as a Pieta by Sister Wilfrid, a subject to which she was devoted, but which Clarke had not tackled before, and about which he was dubious for a window. Because of Clarke's ill health following a bicycle accident at the beginning of the year, the window was not estimated for until March and the window was delayed until the autumn of that year. Since he was committted to making it himself, rather than giving it to his thriving family Dublin studio, it was, like its two later fellow Dowanhill windows of 1927, made in London, where it was exhibited at the Fulham Glass House in January 1927. It was erected in Glasgow on 24 January 1927 after Sister Wilfrid's untimely death, so therefore became her memorial. The inscription includes her favourite stanza from the Stabat Mater and her family moto, 'Singulariter in spe'.

Clarke's recognizably stylized figures, richly attired in a sumptuous array of fabrics are, as in his earlier Coronation of the Virgin window of 1923, presented within a strongly geometrical framework. This time his design is based around an almond-shaped vesica, whose strangely interrupted border is filled with the richly coloured small flower heads that had by now become a hallmark of the artist's work. Inside swim tiny underwater organisms, magnified and painted on randomly leaded pieces of streaky glass of great beauty and variety, a subtle version of Clarke's more exuberant designs for Bewley's Oriental Café in Dublin of the same date. Two devoutly praying saints, chosen for their particular connections with Sister Wilfrid, hover beside the central Pieta: St. Francis of Assisi in his tattered brown habit with accompanying birds, and St. Catherine of Genoa, chosen because she had beheld a vision of the Dead Christ in his Mother's arms and resplendent in red, her special colours, symbolic of the Eucharist and the fire of Divine Love. They attend the wistful, girlish figure of Our Lady, who gazes out at us, the emaciated figure of her Son draped over her knees. The saints and four praying angels above are suspended against an ultramarine sky made of slabs of great depth of colour, into which tiny star-like pieces of jewelled glass have been leaded. In contrast, flames leap symbolically at the top of the window, watched by two small seraphim. The colours, textures, variety, quality and range of the glass used in this window are exceptionally fine, as is its masterful treatment; wings, halos, embroidered cuffs, shoes and headdresses contribute to the sumptuous effect. The composition effortlessly conjures up a magical world of celestial beings against an uninterruptedly rich tapestry of blue, the earth suggested only by lush green fronds at its base, an unusual device in Clarke's work.

Nicola Gordon Bowe

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