Harry Clarke (1889-1931)
Harry Clarke was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1889. He drew his influences from the Art Noveau movement, which reached its heyday in Europe and the United States during his childhood and teenage years, as well as the Art Deco movement that flourished in Europe and beyond in the years after World War I. Following in the footsteps of his father, a famous stained glass artist and craftsman, he attended Dublin Art School and moved to London after graduation in 1914, where he began illustrating books. Some of the more famous of these books include: Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1916), Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe (1923), Fairy Tales of Perrault by Charles Perrault (1922), and Goethe’s Faust (1926), the last of which contained illustrations of Clarke’s that are now thought to be a precursor to the psychedelic imagery of the 1960s. However, his primary medium remained stained glass, and his work in that area had a good deal of influence on his work as an illustrator; such an influence mainly manifested itself through use of heavy lines in his black and white illustrations. After his father’s death in 1921, Clarke moved back to Dublin to take over the family studio along with his brother, Walter, and together they produced over 130 windows. Clarke suffered from ill health throughout his life, and died of tuberculosis in Switzerland in 1931.
“The Little Sea Maid"
“The Little Sea Maid,” by Hans Christian Andersen, tells the story of a young mermaid who lives with her sisters in their undersea kingdom until, one day, she spies a handsome Prince through the window of a passing ship and is immediately infatuated. She asks her grandmother how she might be able to join him in the world on the surface, and is told that she needs to first gain an immortal soul and that the only way for a mermaid to gain such a thing is to marry a human being. The little sea maid is determined to do so, and goes to see the sea witch. The sea witch tells her that she will turn the Little Sea Maid’s tail into legs in exchange for her tongue and that if she fails to marry the prince within the allotted time period, she will turn into sea foam and never gain an immortal soul.
This illustration depicts the little sea maid’s act of making the bargain to become human with the sea witch. Clarke’s stained glass background is evident here through his use of black and white space to create depth and intricacy, as well as the fine and precise lines used to create this illustration. The scene juxtaposes the innocence and purity of the little sea maid (displayed in the bottom half of the illustration) with the darkness and malevolence of the sea witch (shown in the top half). The influence of Art Deco is also strongly felt through the decadent quality given by the use of intricate lines, as well as the symmetry present in the drawing.
“Little Red Riding Hood”
This image depicts Little Red Riding Hood meeting the wolf for the first time on her way to her grandmother’s house. The colors used here are bright, almost saccharine, giving a normally menacing scene a playful feel. Even so, the intricacy of the lines in this picture speak to Clarke’s stained-glass background and add a layer of sophistication to this children’s book illustration. The wolf and Riding Hood are about the same size, downplaying the threat posed by the wolf.
“The Little Match Girl”
In this image, the little match girl sees a vision of her deceased grandmother while lighting multiple matches in an attempt to keep warm on the street. Clarke’s use of positive and negative (dark and light) space serves to contrast the blackness of the girl’s reality with the welcoming alternative of the grandmother’s place in the upper-left corner. Here, light represents the benevolent alternative of heaven that the girl ultimately welcomes by joining her grandmother.