In the autumn of 1917, Harry Clarke, the 28 year old rising star of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement, made a series of miniature stained glass panels for the 'beloved portly Maecenas of Dublin', Laurence Ambrose Waldron, stockbroker and collector. Waldron, Clarke's earliest patron and a govenor of the Jesuit school where he (and James Joyce) had been educated, recognized Clarke's singular skills at illustrating the literature they both loved by commissioning various graphic works from him in the early stages of his short but prolific career. Marino, Waldron's house overlooking Killiney Bay and one of the few purpose-built domestic residences in a clearly identified Arts and Crafts idiom, contained all the young artist's earliest small stained glass panels - set into lanterns, in lamps, narrative panels and a roundel adapted from Donatello.
That Easter (1917), when Clarke's first major stained glass commission was completed - eleven full-scale windows for the Honan Chapel in Cork, depicting Irish saints - Waldron was among their many influential admirers. Here, Clarke had experimented with the traditional stained glass techniques of plating, aciding and etching usually reserved for heraldry, which he applied to myriad tiny symbolic, figurative and decorative details all round the main Symbolist figures with a skill that even today defies belief. To a connoisseur like Waldron and his select Epicurean circle of enlightened, academic Dublin professionals, Clarke's extensively researched images of neurasthenic beauty, Byzantine in their sumptuous richness and full of art historical references, were compelling.
Queens, the poem written circa 1903 by Clarke's older Irish contemporary, the playwright John Millington Synge who had tragically died in 1909 (the year his poem was first printed by W.B. Yeats's sister, Elizabeth at her Cuala Press), was a perfect vehicle for Clarke's mediaeval imagination, for there was no better artist to graphically evoke its 'masterly weave of grotesque and ecstatic images' of notorious women of the past. Clarke inscribed the 26 lines of Synge's poem on separate tiny clear glass panels beneath each of the nine cabinet panels to be inserted horizontally into the casement window of Waldron's library at Marino, as though processing in a frieze through the book-lined room. Waldron would have revelled in the meticulously researched adaptation of Leonardo, Gheeraerts, Titian, Preda, Mantegna and Klimt, sumptuously embroidered into a literally unique use of stained glass, while critics marvelled at Clarke's technical skill in achieving at least six layers of colour in each unleaded panel, through aciding and staining before he even began painting and etching. Later, he would develop this technique further by 'registering' two plated panels of different colours. Each panel is microscopically signed by Clarke, the first (a prologue) including a minutely inscribed dedicatory scroll held by the coy lover, whose 'living queen' he compares so favourably to her illustrious forbears.
In the second panel the head of Deirdre is identifiable with a gold band binding her forehead and golden curls. In the third panel, Ronsard's 'belle Cassandre' from his exotic ode, 'Ah! Je voudrais, richement jaunissant' steps onto an embroidered cushion. Villon's Bert, the 'Berte au grant pié' in his Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis, reputedly Charlemagne's mother, stands, golden slippered.
The fourth panel depicts a group of queens, one wearing a fashionable brocaded sapphire gown. In the fifth panel, Clarke's copy of Leonardo's Mona Lisa is vested and gowned in sumptuous ruby. The sixth panel is dominated by Clarke's interpretation of the figure from Titian's voluptuous Venus with a Mirror (The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). Next to her is 'Jane of Jewry', shown on profile on the right of the panel. The procession is led by Lucrezia Crivelli, a subdued, bonneted queen, in a Renaissance gown of deep blue. She is another adept transcription from Ambrogio Preda's Profile Portrait of a Lady (National Gallery, London) which was believed in Clarke's day to be a portrait of Lucrezia Crivelli. The seventh panel is dominated by the dramatic figure of Judith, an adaptation of Gustav Klimt's Judith II, with the head of Holofernes at her feet. Beside her stands Gloriana in a costume taken from Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger's portrait of Elizabeth I as A Lady in Fancy Dress (Her Majesty The Queen, The Royal Collection). The eighth panel depicts three queens in lavish costumes. The ninth panel (the epilogue) returns to the poet and his lady in a garden, which could well have been based on Waldron's own.
(N. Gordon Bowe, 1989, loc. cit.,).
We are very grateful to Dr. Nicola Gordon Bowe for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.