‘The loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’

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She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded slowly as she danced

One of the highlights of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin is thje collection of modern stained glass displayed in a small, darkened room close to the entry of the Gallery. My favourite of these works is the the Art Nouveau / Arts and crafts style stained glass window by the Irish artist Harry Clarke, inspired by the poem The Eve of St Agnes  by John Keats, completed in 1924. Last year it was joined by an exquisite small panel, only a few inches across, purchased from the Fine Art Society in London. It was originally intended to be part of Clarke’s Geneva Window, described by Clarke’s friend and patron Thomas Bodkin as ‘the loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’.

It’s a beautiful little work, typical of Clarke’s work – and like The Eve of St Agnes it’s incredibly detailed and beautifully composed with rich, deep and vibrant colour.

The panel depicts a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley, showing a partially nude dancer, Nelly, Gilhooley’s mistress, covered only by a transparent veil. It was one of a series of eight panels inspired by the literature of 20th Century Irish authors including Yeats, Shaw and O’Casey. The Hugh Lane’s pane  was Clarke’s original attempt to create the scene, but during its final firing, it developed a hairline crack. Clarke later remade this section. He had to replace it in the final work and in doing so changed the colour scheme from pink to blue.The Geneva Window was commissioned by the Irish government for the League of Nations building in Geneva in late 1920s but was deemed to be unsuitable by the then president of the executive council of the Irish Free State ,WT Cosgrave. In 1988 Clarke’s sons, David and Michael, sold it to a wealthy American art collector, Mitchell Wolfson, and today it’s displayed in his museum in Miami Beach, Florida.More detailed information and images of the Geneva Window can be found here and here.

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4 thoughts on “‘The loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’

  1. It’s hard to believe that is stained glass, it is so detailed. I guess my understanding of stained glass has always been religious and seen in churches and is sort of clunky in executive (rather like this sentence).

    • You’re right. It is so detailed and delicate.
      I’ve only seen photos on the Internet of the completed work and it looks wonderful. At least as good as the exquisite Eve of St Agnes window displayed near this panel in the Hugh Lane.
      And I love the secular literary connections of both works.
      But his religious works are pretty good too.

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