The House Style: William Dowling and the Harry Clarke Studios

In the years before he died (in 1931), as he was ill and overburdened with commissions, Harry Clarke came to rely on a stable of brilliant young assistants in his studios. Austin Molloy, Kathleen Quigly, Millicent Girling, George Stephen Walsh, Philip Deegan, Richard King, William Dowling and others were all trained by Harry to execute his designs according to his exacting standards. This post is about the work of one of those artists, William Dowling.

As I explained in my Harry Clarke Quiz post, according to Nicola Gordon Bowe’s classification scheme,  a stained glass window can be labelled a Harry Clarke if it was designed and executed entirely by him, if it was designed and partially executed by him (A), or if it was designed by him and the execution was done under his close supervision (B).  An excellent example of this is the Tullamore St Brendan window (above and below). This is one of Harry’s (B) windows: he designed it but it was executed by William Dowling in 1928 under Harry’s close supervision. Compare it to the St Brendan in my lead image, which was done by Dowling for Knockainey Church in Limerick in 1939.

This is the predella (lowest panel) of the Tullamore Brendan window. When the window was relocated from Rathfarnham, the predella was separated from the main window and is now backlit, in a dark corner.

Harry researched his subjects extensively and ensured that anyone working on his windows did too. Paul Donnelly*, in his fascinating essay Legacy and Identity: Harry Clarke, William Dowling and the Harry Clarke Studios (in Harry Clarke and Artistic Visions of the New Irish State) tells how he sent his apprentice, William Dowling, off to the National Library to read all that was available on his subject when he was working on the Rathfarnham windows. He would come by every day to deliver encouragement – his assistants all adored him and although he was demanding he was also supportive and kind.

While the three Tullamore windows (originally in Rathfarnham) are credited to Harry Clarke, all the other windows in this post are credited to William Dowling

William (everyone called him Willie) Dowling was recommended to Harry by Austin Molloy, who was his teacher at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. Having himself worked with Harry, Molloy recognised the special talent that Willie brought to his painting, a talent that he felt would be well used at Harry’s studio. Willie probably worked on this one (above) too – it’s the predella of the St Paul window now in Tullamore. You can see that it is the inspiration for the predella of a St Paul window from Knockainey in Co Limerick (below), done in 1930 while Harry was in Davos. The full Peter and Paul window is below that one.

How right Molloy was! Not only did Harry come to rely on him greatly while still alive, but Willie was one of the group of artists (along with Richard King) who stayed on after Harry’s death in 1931, filling the many outstanding commissions still on the books and the new ones that continued to pour in. He eventually took over as manager when Richard King left in 1940, while continuing also as chief designer, and stayed until the Studio closed in the 1970s.

Peter and Paul from Knockainey Church in Limerick, dating to 1930

From the moment he arrived at the Studio in 1927 Dowling was committed to Harry’s style. As Paul Donnelly puts it, 

Dowling worked with Clarke, learning the craft of making stained glass according to his standards and design aesthetic. He had the benefit of Harry Clarke’s direct instruction for more than a year before ill-health force Clarke to seek medical treatment in Switzerland.

. . .In his role as principal designer, Dowling was charged with delivering work which was derived from the distinctive artistic legacy left by Harry Clarke. Dowling wrote that the aim of Clarke Studios was to ‘avoid the mundane and commonplace. That was the ideal of Harry Clarke and one which we have done our very best to follow.’

Paul Donnelly, Biographical Sketch of William Dowling
Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass
Christ Crucified, Patrickswell, Co Limerick, by William Dowling, 1943. This window is above the balcony and is a brilliant example of the mixture of figurative and non-figurative elements, specially designed for the space it occupies

After Harry’s death the demand for Clarke-style windows was relentless and the studios delivered. Well into the 40s they were still producing windows that, to the untrained eye, looked very like ‘a Harry Clarke.’ During that time, the quality of the glass, the art and the workmanship was superb and the busy studios were exporting their windows world-wide. 

Ita and Brigid, Knockainey, 1930. The predella panels are below.

Then, and for many years to come, the Harry Clarke Studios did not allow individual artists to sign their work – all windows were signed Clarke or Clarke Studios. Strict adherence to the House Style and refusal to allow signatures, while understandable as marketing decisions, had several unfortunate consequences.

The predella panels from the Ita and Brigid windows. Upper: The vision of St Ita, in which an angel appeared to her in a dream, offering her three glowing gens, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Lower: St Brigid looking after the people of Kildare- the figures on the left are clearly inspired by, as Nicola Gordon Bowe puts it “Harry’s unique ability to depict the gruesome, macabre and palsied in an exquisite manner.”

First of all, it is difficult to identify individual artists with their work, and this includes Dowling himself. Herculean efforts, though, by Ruth Sheehy and Paul Donnelly have allowed us to acknowledge in some cases the work of Richard King, William Dowling, and occasionally others (such as Charles Simmonds and Terry Clarke, Harry’s nephew).

The Presentation, Patrickswell, 1943. By this time the style was becoming less ornate. This window might remind you of the Dowling windows Robert showed in his post about the Seamus Murphy church in Cork, which dated to 1945

Secondly, the lack of clarity caused by all windows being labelled simply Clarke Studios causes enormous confusion about what is a true Harry Clarke, versus a Harry Clarke Studio. See my Quiz posts (the Quiz and The Answers) for more on this. If I had a euro for every time I have seen a window falsely claiming to be a Harry Clarke, I would be wealthy by now. Conversely, those who buy stained glass  panels labelled “Harry Clarke” when they are manifestly not by the master himself, might be poorer.

Jesus Found in the Temple (or Christ Among the Doctors), Patrickswell, 1943

Thirdly, the policy caused some artists, in frustration, to leave. While it is possible that they had other motivations as well, both Richard King and George Stephen Walsh left to go out on their own, eventually shaking off the constrictions of the house style to follow their own artistic visions under their own names.

Two version of Peter receiving his keys. Upper from Patrickswell, 1940 and lower from Knockainey, 1930

Finally, all artists deserve credit for their work. William Dowling is a case in point – while he spent many years producing windows in the House Style, they were not simply imitations, copies or reproductions of Harry’s designs. Willie brought his own genius to each window and when you’ve seen several you begin to recognise his stamp – the way he does faces, for example, or how he loves cascading folds of drapery, or his clever juxtaposition of Harry’s dark ‘floral ornamentation’ device (known as FO’s by assistants, or even as Fried Onions) with bright figurative scenes, such as in the Patrickswell Crucifixion, further up.

Above is a detail from one of Dowling’s Mysteries of the Rosary windows in the Dominican Convent in Wicklow, done in 1938. This is a mocking soldier from a Christ Condemned window and it comes from Dowling’s own artistic imagination, not from a Harry Clarke design

I recently visited two William Dowling Churches in Limerick, Patrickswell and Knockainey, and I have mainly used images from these two churches to illustrate this post, along with a few from the wonderful Mysteries of the Rosary windows by him in the Dominican Convent in Wicklow which date from 1938/39. The windows in Knockainey were done for an older church in the 30s and 40s and then relocated to the new church in 1973. While relocating windows is not always successful (Tullamore is a case in point), in this case the relocated windows (with two minor exceptions) create a startlingly beautiful interior, and an interesting counterpoint to their modern surrounds. The Patrickswell windows are original to the building, dating from 1940 to 1943, although an awkward balcony obscures some of them to the detriment of the overall effect. I, and my companions, were bowled over by these two churches – it felt like we were stepping inside a glowing gallery full of stunning artworks.

The predella from the large Christ the King window in Knockainey (1931) showing three scenes from the Life of Christ

Willie continued to manage the studios right until it closed in 1973. In the end, the Studio’s adherence to the House Style meant that its stained glass, once so in-demand, was seen as not really evolving with the times. Other artists with more modern aesthetics started to win commissions from architects looking to build contemporary churches that fitted post-Vatican II liturgical changes. Ironically, by the 60s and 70s Willie had started to design (and sign!) windows with a very different look to the House Style. His later output could form another post, but for now I wanted to concentrate on the early House Style period.

The 4th and 5th Glorious Mysteries from the Dominican Convent in Wicklow, The Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven and the Assumption. 1938/39

I want to finish with some personal memories of Willie Dowling. He lived until 1980 and he is remembered fondly by Etain and Veronique Clarke, Harry’s granddaughters. “He was a very lovely man,” Veronique told me, “Soft spoken and shy. Always dressed in his suit with a dressy wool coat and scarf. I believe he wore a fedora as well.” He was patient and kind (a bit like Harry) and he never minded them around the studio. Etain says “I remember going into the glass room with him – It was right by his office at the studios. He was pointing out to me how much antique glass was in there. French and German I remember particularly. Incredible colour, and textures. Handmade glass, so beautiful!” It was his dedication they both remembered, and how he helped their father, David, to keep the Studios running as long as possible.

This is a tiny detail from a crucifixion window in Wicklow, showing Willie’s mastery of technique: achieving the multiple colours in the skull calls for extraordinary skill

* I am indebted to the scholarship of Paul Donnelly for this post. Paul has conducted in-depth investigation into the work of the Harry Clarke Studios and has identified many windows in the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass based on his research. Thank you, Paul for your erudition and generosity.

Séamus Murphy: At Home in Cork

This is Cork city in the 1940s. The subject of today’s post is a Cork man – the sculptor Séamus Murphy. Born in 1907 near Mallow, Murphy took classes at the Crawford School of Art before apprenticing as a stone carver at O’Connell’s Stone Yard in Blackpool, a parish in the city, for seven years. Murphy and his work could occupy several posts, but today we concentrate on his only architectural building project, the Church of the Annunciation in Blackpool. Séamus Murphy can fairly claim to be the ‘sculptural designer’ of this building – as he conceived the way it would appear – while the architect Edmond Patrick O’Flynn most likely carried out the technical drawings and specifications.

According to the Murphy family, Séamus found inspiration for Blackpool from pictures of churches in South America. In particular, the roughly textured render on the external walls is said to have derived from the adobe finish common in Spanish missionary churches there. The Cork church was commenced in January 1945, and the picture above (courtesy of Cork City Library) dates from around that time. The picture below – also courtesy Cork City Library – shows the dedication ceremony in the church on 7 October 1945.

This picture of Séamus, above, is from the RTE archives. The Blackpool project is a good area of study, as the church shows the sculptor’s ability to conceive large, three-dimensional spaces as well as his skills in producing his own figurative and relief works, a number of which are used in the church furnishings: they are of polished Portland stone.

While the church is a valuable repository of Séamus Murphy’s design and carving skills, the work of many other contemporary artists can also be found in the building. The stained glass windows are from the Harry Clarke Studios, designed by William Dowling.

Particularly striking is the crucifix window at the east end. Above is the original cartoon (courtesy of Trinity College Library Dublin) by Dowling, side-by-side with an image of the window today. All the windows are of fine quality.

Examples of the ‘opus sectile’ Stations of the Cross are shown above. According to the Blackpool Parish website these were the work of Richard King. Finola has written extensively about this artist, who managed the Clarke studios after Harry’s death. She is also now researching the art-form of ‘Stations of the Cross’. In fact, researchers believe that these stations at Blackpool were carried out by William Dowling at the Harry Clarke Studios. Richard King was no longer working for the Studios in 1945, although he had produced designs of a similar style for Belvedere College SJ, Dublin, in 1939.

A full view of the east end of the church. The interior has changed very little over 77 years and is, therefore, a great tribute to Séamus Murphy and the the commissioning family of William Dwyer, then head of the nearby Sunbeam Wolsey factory. Dwyer funded the whole project as a memorial to his daughter Maeve who had sadly passed away in 1943.

This fine font cover was carved by hand by Bart, a younger brother of Séamus.

Murphy’s Church of the Annunciation is certainly a landmark building – not just for Cork, but for the whole of Ireland. And Séamus himself must rank as one of the outstanding artists of the Free State. You will come across his distinctive work in many locations; I will be directing you to some of them in future posts.

Many thanks to Orla Murphy for giving me valuable insights on her father’s works

The Nativity in Stained Glass

Dear Readers – we know you aren’t all on Facebook, so this is for those of you who follow us on WordPress or other platforms. On our Facebook page, we’ve been running a series on The Nativity in Stained Glass in the lead up to Christmas, so here, in one post, are those photographs and text. All the windows are Irish and 20th century. Merry Christmas to you all!

This one is by George Walsh and it’s in Frankfield Grange Catholic Church in Cork. This scene is part of a larger window, the main scene depicting the Annunciation. More about George Walsh here.

Kevin Kelly was a long-time stained glass artist for Abbey Studios. He loved doing Nativity windows. This one is in Inchigeelagh, Co Cork and featured on a UNICEF Christmas Card. It’s worth taking a look at the detail – amazing for what’s quite a small window.

Our next Nativity in Stained Glass comes from St Carthage Catholic Church in Lismore and is the work of Watson’s of Youghal. While the figures are conventional, the ‘Celtic Revival’ decoration lifts this window far above the ordinary. Read more about Watsons and their mastery of this form, popular among Irish nationalists at the turn of the 20th century.

This beautiful Nativity window is in Mayfield, Cork, in the Church of Our Lady Crowned. The Murphy-Devitt Studios were a group of young, dedicated artist and designers, determined to bring something new to traditional stained glass. We think they succeeded magnificently.

This scene of the visit of the Magi is in Kilcoe Church of the Holy Rosary and is the work of Catherine O’Brien, the artist who worked longest in An Túr Gloine, the Arts and Crafts Stained Glass Co-operative founded by Sarah Purser and Edward Martyn to promote home-grown arts and craft in Ireland. This is a re-working of a previous window by O’Brien, proving that even Arts and Crafts practitioners were not above re-cycling.

What does the Hill of Tara have to do with the Nativity?  In the Catholic Cathedral in Killarney are a whole set of windows that draw parallels between biblical scenes and Irish saints – all part of the push-pull between the Rome-centric internationalisation of the Irish church versus the desire of Irish congregations and clergy to see their own Irish and local saints depicted in their stained glass windows. In this case, the Nativity of Jesus is compared to the birth of Christianity in Ireland when St Patrick lit the Pascal Fire on the Hill of Slane (although the window says Tara, the story is that the high king saw the fire from the Hill of Tara). The windows are by Hardman, before they became Earleys.

The Dominican Convent in Wicklow town has a gorgeous series of windows – the Mysteries of the Rosary. They were done in the Harry Clarke Studios in 1938, several years after Harry’s death, but his influence is very evident. They were mostly designed and painted by William Dowling, but with much input from Richard King. To see if you know the difference between Harry Clarke and Harry Clarke Studios windows, take the quiz, or just cheat and go straight to the answers.

Patrick Pollen, although he grew up in England, made his stained glass career in Ireland. Having been bowled over by Evie Hone’s Eton windows he came to Dublin to work with her. Hone’s influence is readily apparent in these two panels, which form the predella (lowest section) of a window in St Michael’s church in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, dating to 1957. I haven’t written about Pollan (yet) but you can read about Evie Hone here.

We’ve kept the best for last – the genius that is Harry Clarke. This is his Nativity Window, done in 1919 for Edith Somerville and her family, for the C of I Church of St Barrahane in Castletownshend, Co Cork. Lots more about Harry Clarke, Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist.

Painting With Light

What are we seeking right now? If social media is right, it’s distraction. But also beauty, comfort, reassurance… With that in mind, I have created a video slideshow of some of my favourite stained glass windows.

I could have used a totally different selection and perhaps I will do another one sometime. Meanwhile, this took me all day to do – learning how to do stuff like this seems to get harder as the years roll by. Funny how that works.

The music is Sí Beag Sí Mór by O’Carolan and it’s played beautifully by Susan Nares on the harp – thank you, Susie! Susie made this recording for Robert’s Swantonstown Sessions (have you checked in there yet?). The stained glass I’ve chosen is by Harry Clarke, George Walsh, Hubert McGoldrick, Murphy Devitt, Mayer of Munich, Joshua Clarke and Co., Thomas Denny, William Dowling, Richard King, Watsons of Youghal, and Earley and Co. For much more on Irish Stained Glass, including some of the artists I have chosen, have a glance over this page.

Here it is – I hope you enjoy it.

Top Ten West Cork Photographs of 2017

Every year we take a look at the Facebook photographs that you’ve liked or viewed or shared the most, and then edit them down to manageable proportions. Here’s our final selection for this year – we decided to stick to West Cork, and we’re starting off with Bantry, with that wonderful statue of Brendan the Navigator blessing us and inviting us into the town.

The photo this year that was most viewed and exclaimed over was our shot of Dunboy Castle (above), just outside Castletownbere. It’s a dramatic sight and an extraordinary story of the dream to build Ireland’s first six star hotel – a dream that came crashing down with the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy in 2008. Perhaps one day a new team will take it on: meantime it sits forlornly behind barbed wire, a reminder of optimistic times.

We were surprised by the instant appeal of our stained glass St Gobnait. Although a familiar saint her in West Cork, she is not universally known elsewhere. Perhaps it is her association with the bees that resonates with people now that bees everywhere are in danger. The image is of a window in Bantry Catholic church, probably the work of William Dowling.

Kilcoe Castle seems to feature each year as it’s a firm favourite with us in West Cork. We were lucky to capture it at dusk on a hazy evening in March. It has been lovingly and magnificently restored by Jeremy Irons and if you’re curious to see inside, there are some interior images here.

Our friend, and professional wildlife photographer, Sheena Jolley lives in this impossibly romantic old mill just outside of Schull. Her studio occupies the building on the right, while some of the workings of the old mill are still intact and conserved by Sheena. I suspect this photograph was so popular because many of us have a dream to dwell in a piece of living history like this.

Uragh Stone Circle on the Beara Peninsula – I think we can all agree now it’s the stone circle with the best setting in Ireland. But it’s only one of the many feature of Gleninchaquin that makes this remote but accessible valley so richly enjoyable to visit.

Everyone loves driving through the Caha Pass between Glengarriff and Kenmare – the scenery is spectacular and includes several tunnels

This image, of the Barnacleeve Gap above Schull, illustrates well the colours of West Cork in winter, when the bracken turns dark amber and the Purple Moor Grass (not purple at all) earns its Irish name of Fionnán, meaning blonde, while the grasses and mosses keep the lowest growth green.

Another winter view, this time from across Reendonagan Lake, near Ballylickey, to the Sugarloaf Mountain on the Beara Peninsula.

And finally a photograph that manages to capture much of the Mizen Peninsula, taken on Brow Head and looking towards Mount Gabriel in the distance, with the village of Crookhaven and the Rock Island lighthouse on the left. And yes, you’re right – another winter photograph.