Scenes from The Old Testament by Richard King
In my post Discovering Richard King, I introduced you to the stained glass artist and the extraordinary windows in Athlone. If you haven’t read that post, pop back now and read it for an overview of King’s career, before continuing. Ever since then, I have been trying to track down Richard King’s art – he was active in several media and also exported windows to the US, UK and Australia. In Mayo recently, I was finally able to photograph more of his stained glass.
The Assumption window in Swinford
King was greatly influenced by Harry Clarke in his time at the studio, and when he took over as chief designer upon Harry’s death in 1931 he carried on very much in Harry’s style. After all, that was the style the clients wanted, and he excelled in producing it. I think I have tracked down several windows produced in the decade from 1930 to 1940 (when he left to open his own studio) that bear his hallmarks, but since Studio windows were never signed by individual artists after Harry died (with a few notable exceptions) it is impossible to verify whether or not I am correct. That’s why it was a thrill, on a recent visit to Mayo, to be able to view and photograph three Richard King windows, all of which date to the period after he left the Harry Clarke Studio. Richard came from Mayo (from Castlebar) so no doubt was a popular choice when stained glass was needed. Together, these three windows illustrate the evolution of his style over time.
The earliest, and largest, window dates to 1952 and is in the Church of Our Lady Help of Christians in Swinford. It consists of three lights and a rose window above them and the theme is the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The rose window above the depiction of Mary rising shows the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – with the Son holding the crown with which he will declare his mother to be Queen of Heaven. I can’t help thinking that the Father looks a little like a depiction of one of the ancient Irish chieftains from the Athlone Patrick windows.
Mary is flanked by John the Evangelist and by Patrick – unusual choices and one wonders who dreamed them up. We know it’s John since he holds a quill pen with which to write the gospel, and is accompanied by an eagle, his symbol as one of the four evangelists. Patrick is always recognisable in green, with a crozier on his arm and a snake underfoot, and is accompanied by geese. I’m not sure of the symbolism of the geese – perhaps they were to balance the eagle [EDIT: see Niall McAuley’s comment below]. He’s wearing fetching green gloves and slippers. Take a close look at the church he carries – the windows are the same configuration as these windows – a little visual pun that Richard must have enjoyed making.
The lingering influence of the Clarke style is still visible in the extraordinary detail of every part of the window, in the glowing colours, the symmetry of the matched angels and in the cherubim faces below Mary. However, in every respect this is the work of an artist who is his own man – it could never be mistaken for a Clarke, or even a Clarke Studio, window.
But the Swinford church has a surprise – a second Richard King window, dating from 1964 and radically different from the Assumption. This is a two-light window depicting the Old and the New Testaments. The style is suddenly modernist, bold, faux-naïf and reflects his own study of the modern styles of the time and his experimentation with new ways of capturing religious themes. The windows are also delightful – strong colours and carefully placed figures create an attractive whole.
Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descends on Mary and the apostles
I think my favourite image is the one in which Pope Paul VI steers a boat full of bishops – a reference, apparently, to the ‘barque of Peter’. Paul was pope from 1963 to 1978, much of my young life, and his likeness was instantly recognisable. It brought a smile to my face.
The last Richard King window is a two light window in the St Patrick’s Church in Newport. The theme is I Am The Resurrection And The Light. This one dates from 1973, the year before he died and what is striking is how far now he has moved towards a fully modern style with elements of cubism and abstraction.
The glowing colours are still there, the strong reds and blues, but there is no attempt at realism in the figures (note for example his treatment of Christ’s ribs as a series of rectangles) and a strong geometric arrangement is obvious throughout the composition.
So far I have only written about Richard King as a stained glass artist, but there was more, much more, to him than glass. In future posts I will endeavour to expand on that statement. Meanwhile, I will leave you with a photograph of the young Richard King, courtesy of the Capuchin Archives.