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- online exhibition -

Harry Clarke (1889-1931) is one of Ireland’s most renowned illustrators and stained-glass artists. Celebrated the world over for his draughtsmanship and exceptional use of colour, many marvel at the meticulous detail and captivating imagery of his finished works. 

If we delve into the artist’s preparatory works, however, we uncover fascinating insights into his working mind, methods, and materials. Such studies exist on the periphery of Clarke’s celebrated stained-glass works – Yet they contribute richly to our understanding of his process, as do the host of marginalia found within and scattered about them.

Come on a journey through eighteen of Harry Clarke’s watercolour studies for The Eve of St Agnes window and discover the curious secrets hidden in the margins...


I n 1923 , Harry Clarke was commissioned to create a stained-glass window for a domestic interior. His client, Harold Jacob of Jacob’s Biscuits, originally proposed a theme of ‘Night and Morning’ or ‘Summer and Winter’, but the artist made some more literary suggestions.

Ultimately, "The Eve of St Agnes” (1819) by John Keats was selected as a source for what would become one of Clarke’s true masterpieces. 

Originally installed on the turn of stairs in "St Michael’s", the home of Jacob’s father, The Eve of St Agnes (1924) has been described as ‘a revel in blue.’ It is now in the collection of the Hugh Lane Gallery , Dublin.
Harry Clarke, The Eve of St Agnes , 1924. Collection & image © Hugh Lane Gallery.


Harry Clarke completed work on The Eve of St Agnes , with the assistance of Kathleen Quigly, (1888-1981), in April 1924 and went on to win a gold medal for the window in that year’s Aonach Tailteann (Tailteann Games).

Curiously, in the same year eighteen watercolour studies, which Clarke had made in preparation for the window, were purchased from the artist for Crawford Art Gallery through its Gibson Bequest fund.

These delicate studies not only afford astonishing insights into the making of a masterpiece, but also reveal often overlooked ‘ marginalia ’ – drawings or doodles in the margins – made by Clarke as he thought out his work.

What might we learn from them?


Clarke’s source, “The Eve of St Agnes” by John Keats, follows the dreamlike romance of Madeline and Porphyro on the moonlit eve of the feast of Saint Agnes, which takes place annually on 20 January.  

The vivid imagery of Keats’ poetry, and its rich vocabulary of colours and allusions, was to captivate the artist’s imagination. 

Let us now explore thirteen of Clarke’s narrative scenes, five supporting panels, and their hidden details. Interspersed throughout this online exhibition will be glimpses of the artist’s process, networks, materials, and other projects.

Numb were the Beadsman's Fingers, while he Told his Rosary

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 34 x 12 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.87
The first scene in Clarke’s The Eve of St Agnes may be found at the top left of the window’s first column. This study showcases the artist’s delicate handling of watercolours and fine pencilwork.

This panel depicts the elderly beadsman (an almsman or pensioner), from the opening of John Keats’ poem, who kneels in prayer for his benefactors – Madeline’s family – in their chapel. 

Clarke’s use of blue tones evokes the beadsman’s ‘frosted breath’ on this bitterly cold January night, which passes the ‘sweet Virgin’s picture’ above his praying hands.

In the margins of Numb were the Beadsman's Fingers , while he Told his Rosary , Clarke’s annotations offer insights into his colour choices and practice.

Colour swatches and references to ‘All ground pale’, ‘Blue’, and ‘Pure white’ not only act as reminders for the very busy artist, but also serve to guide his studio assistants, particularly Kathleen Quigly, in carrying out Clarke’s instructions.

Soon, up Aloft, the Silver, Snarling Trumpets 'gan to Chide

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 12 x 24 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.88

Moving from the quiet of the chapel to the exuberance of a party, this image sits above At Length Burst in the Argent Revelry.

‘With hair blown back’, a conductor and orchestra occupy a gallery space and contribute to the evening’s festivities detailed in the panel below them. Nicola Gordon-Bowe has suggested that the sitar or theorbo (long-necked lute) -playing figure to the right of the conductor resembles Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau’s silent film Nosferatu (1922).

At Length Burst in the Argent Revelry

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 30 x 20.9 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.89

‘At length burst in the argent revelry,
With plume, tiara, and all rich array’

Derived from the fifth stanza of Keats’ poem, this panel design emphasises the opulent costume and party mood in the castle of Madeline’s family on the Eve of St Agnes. The central male figure is presented as a dandy with slightly grotesque features, while the female figure to the left appears to be bare-breasted. Could they be inspired by the ‘bright young things’, an interwar generation of young people about whom Evelyn Waugh later wrote in Vile Bodies (1930)?

Madeline is not to be found in this scene, which Clarke uses to emphasise her virtue given the bodily and stylish treatment of the figures depicted here.
Lurking on the edge of At Length Burst in the Argent Revelry is a dishevelled and tired male figure. 

Bearing a resemblance to the artist himself, can this be read as a self-portrait? Might it provide an insight into Clarke’s state of mind at the time? It certainly offers a melancholy counterpoint to the exuberant party scene that it fringes. 

Meantime, Across the Moors, had Come Young Porphyro

Harry Clarke, The Eve of St Agnes (detail), 1924. Collection & image © Hugh Lane Gallery.
For reasons unknown, the fourth panel in Clarke’s sequence was not among those purchased for the gallery by the Gibson Bequest Committee in 1924 and its status and whereabouts remain untraced.

We know from the completed window, however, that it features the first appearance of Porphyro . The pictured detail from The Eve of St Agnes window includes a crescent moon (top left), lantern blowing in the wind above Porphyro’s head, and luminous splendour of Clarke’s stained glass.

Behind a Broad Hall-Pillar, Far Beyond the Sound of Merriment and Chorus Bland

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 35 x 24 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.91

This study for the fifth panel is the earliest extant watercolour image of Porphyro in Clarke’s sequence. 

‘He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
And grasp'd his fingers in her palsied hand’

Dressed to impress, Porphyro encounters Madeline’s old nurse, Angela , within the castle walls. Emphasising its circular form, a spiral design decorates the pillar behind his head, while his lantern and cloak have been cast by his feet (bottom left).
By 1923, Clarke was a well-connected artist and enjoyed public success in his stained-glass work. His book illustrations for editions of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales (1916) and Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1919) also brought him acclaim. Publishers and writers alike took note.

On the reverse of Behind a Broad Hall-Pillar, far Beyond the Sound of Merriment and Chorus Bland , an address noted in Clarke’s own hand can be identified: ‘Frau Fleischmann, 6 Wellesley Terrace, Wellington Road, Cork.’

The artist was in correspondence with Tilly Fleischmann (1882-1967) at this time, according to Fleischmann family records, and attended her Franz Liszt recital at the Abbey Theatre i n 1923. 

Several years earlier, Fleischmann had conducted the Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint Anne choir during the consecration of the Honan Chapel (1916), University College Cork. Clarke had contributed eleven windows to the same chapel, a jewel of the Irish Arts & Crafts Movement, which represents his earliest major commission. .

Follow me Child or Else these Stones Will Be thy Bier

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 35 x 24 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.90

‘“Get hence! get hence!”’

A lovesick Porphyro is guided by cautious Angela to safer quarters. 

The poet’s use of the word ‘bier’ refers to a stand upon which a coffin or corpse is placed, thus inferring the risk that Porphyro takes in pursuing Madeline, daughter of a warlike family. 

Indeed, Angela tells him that the ‘dwarfish’ courtier Hildebrand has ‘cursed thee and thine, both house and land.’
The qualities of Clarke’s watercolour studies are numerous and reveal stunning insights into his working mind and the intricate thinking that underpins his stained-glass designs. 

We have already seen how he annotates in colour and text instructions and perhaps loses concentration with unrelated sketches in the margins. 

On the verso (reverse) of Follow me Child or Else these Stones Will Be thy Bier, for instance, is another revealing sketch. Depicting a half-length female nude, the subject gazes out at us startlingly from the past. 

Could she be a woman known to the artist or a life model from the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art at which Clarke tutored during the early 1920s? 

Madeline, St. Agnes' Charmed Maid

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 35 x 24 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.90

Observed by Angela, Madeline leaves the party and does not look back. Despite having many suitors, it is noted that ‘she saw not: her heart was otherwhere.’ 

In this saturated cobalt image, Clarke describes the near sleep-walking Madeline as being under the charm or spell of Saint Agnes, who can grant pious maidens a vision of her desired husband. Keats writes that Madeline ‘sigh’d for Agnes’ dreams, the sweetest of the year.’
A sketch in the right-hand margin of Madeline, St Agnes’ Charmed Maid confirms Clarke worked on more than one project at a time.

This rectilinear sketch with ‘R.M. Butler Ex Libris’ written beneath relates to a bookplate design that the artist made for architect Rudolph Maximilian Butler (1872-1942) of 73 Ailesbury Road, Dublin in 1923, now in the National Library of Ireland collection.

Full on this Casement…

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 27.5 x 29 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.93

Having observed the rites and rituals appropriate to the Eve of St Agnes and prepared herself accordingly, Madeline sleeps in the hope of catching sight of Porphyro in her dreams.

Above her bed, Clarke includes a pious and knowing reference to the medium of stained glass through which wintry moonlight bathes sleeping Madeline.

The margins of this watercolour study include colour palette (top left), text annotations (top right and bottom) and doodles including a face (right).

These Delicates he Heap'd with Glowing Hand

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 33.5 x 12 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.94

This image illustrates the thirty-first stanza of Keats’ poem in which Porphyro prepares a midnight feast for Madeline. 

It also forms the first panel in the second column of Clarke’s window design, occupying a position opposite Numb were the Beadsman's Fingers , while he Told his Rosary and At Length Burst in the Argent Revelry .

Once ready, he entreats ‘“And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake! / Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite”’ (hermit, religious recluse, or devotee).

Woofed Phantasies

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 8.5 x 20 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.95

As with panel two, which depicts the orchestra, this scene surmounts and contributes to a larger narrative scene placed underneath it. 

Here Clarke imagines the dream or fantasy that Porphyro weaves for Madeline as fairy-like creatures carrying daisy-chain garlands. Adding an otherworldly dimension, these sprites are instrumental in encouraging the nascent romance of the protagonists below.

She Still Beheld, Now Wide Awake, the Vision of her Sleep

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 36 x 20 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.96

Dream and reality merge as Madeline, who has been dreaming of Porphyro, is roused from sleep by his music.

The feast Porphyro prepared in These Delicates he Heap'd with Glowing Hand may be seen on the left of the scene as he gazes upon it and plays a stringed instrument.

Madeline gazes up at him, her eyes wide like full moons.

This is No Dream, my Bride, my Madeline!

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 33.5 x 12 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.97

In this scene, Porphyro smilingly attempts to convince Madeline, as she rises, that she is awake and no longer dreaming. 

Butterflies fluttering upwards on the black screen on the left suggest their excited love and imminent flight, while the artist places the two bodies close together to emphasise the couple’s intimacy and union.

Marginalia here include Clarke’s instructions and a grotesque head and body, which is in stark contrast to the prettiness of the scene.

Far o’er the Southern Moors I have a Home for Thee

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 29 x 21 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.98

At the promise of a home together, Porphyro and Madeline hurry through the silent, sleeping castle. The couple’s bodies remain united, while their gestures are in harmony. 

Clarke describes their attire with simplicity yet in delightful detail, including Porphyro’s heeled shoes, tasselled stockings, and striped breeches.

More marginalia! Close inspection of the right-hand margins reveal two doodled faces.

The Arras, Rich with Horseman, Hawk, and Hound

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 29 x 21 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.99

Continuing their flight, Madeline and Porphyro peer at a richly adorned arras (tapestry) as they pass.  Woven like their dreams, the decorative imagery describes both the tumult they seek to escape and the chivalry associated with their medieval romance.

Does the bearded head in the margin beneath this scene relate to the narrative or is it an absent-minded aside from a distracted artist?

The Key Turns, and the Door Upon its Hinges Groans

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 27 x 29 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.100

Approaching the climax of Keats’ poem, Madeline and Porphyro ‘glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall; / Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide.’ 

The artist selects the moment in which, turning the key in the castle’s door, they are on the cusp of their elopement. Curiously, Clarke had previously depicted this scene in a stylised illustration less than a decade earlier, c.1914-15.

The figure at the couple’s feet is the porter who, lying ‘in uneasy sprawl, / With a huge empty flaggon by his side,’ has drank to excess and presents no obstacle to their flight.

Long Ago, These Lovers Fled Away into the Storm

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 28 x 15 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.101

The final narrative panel in Clarke’s scheme is derived from the final stanza of Keats’ poem.

Madeline and Porphyro follow the path of love and drift into legend, as those they leave behind are left restless and forgotten. The strong diagonals of Clarke’s drawing emphasise both the stormy conditions and act as a metaphor for the couple moving against the established order. The artist suggests their bond through their close body language, weathering the storm together.

In the margins of Long Ago, These Lovers Fled Away into the Storm are curious details which may relate back to an earlier image in the narrative sequence: The Arras, Rich with Horseman, Hawk, and Hound.

Are these a sign of Clarke’s active mind considering all aspects of his design or musing on other projects?

The Curtain Call

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, 25.5 x 48.5 cm /
 25.5 x 49 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.104 / CAG.103

This pair of preparatory studies acts as a ‘curtain call’ (or frieze) of the cast of characters in Keats’ poem and Clarke’s design. They sit at the base of the window underneath the two columns of narrative scenes.

The one on the top shows the drunken porter and Porphyro flanking ‘dwarfish Hildebrand’ and a mystery woman, who do not appear elsewhere in the window. 

In the bottom panel, Madeline, Angela, the beadsman, and hound all figure. A space if left above the hound for the St Agnes Roundel, for which Clarke made a separate study.

Marginalia in The Curtain Call (left panel) indicate its placement at ‘LEFT BASE’ in Clarke’s design, while another potentially sinister and grotesque figure with goatee beard and pointed ear emerges.

In the cast of characters, an elaborately dressed woman bears a blade and roles back her sleeve to reveal a tattooed forearm. A warrior woman?

While we may question an artist’s imagery or methods, we may not always scrutinise their materials as closely. However, these may reveal telling insights into an artist’s practice, their means and, indeed, the times in which they lived. 

In making The Eve of St Agnes watercolour studies, for instance, Clarke appears to have used convenient materials that were to hand. In some cases, irregularly shaped sheets or scraps of paper turn out to be the reverse of Ordnance Survey maps of County Donegal, as is the case with The Curtain Call (left panel), Full on this Casement…, and Soon, up Aloft, the Silver, Snarling Trumpets 'gan to Chide.

Was the artist being economical or were materials in short supply during and after the Irish Civil War (1922-23)?

St Agnes Roundel

c.1923, pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper, D 17 cm
Purchased, 1924 (Gibson Bequest Fund). CAG.102

Conspicuous by her absence elsewhere in the window design, Saint Agnes finally appears almost as a punctuation point in the sequence.

Bearing a palm of martyrdom in her hand, Saint Agnes is seated in a lotus position with her attribute – a lamb – on her lap. She also carries a book upon which her initials are inscribed.

Saint Agnes of Rome (c.291-304) was martyred at the age of thirteen and is the patron saint of chastity, young girls, virgins, rape victims, and engaged couples. 

The name Agnes is derived from the Latin agnus (lamb) and Greek hagnē (chaste or pure).

Accompanying the St Agnes Roundel is a drawing of a lamb in an alternate pose from that found on the saint’s lap in the watercolour study. A comparison allows us one final insight into Clarke’s careful consideration of all aspects of his design for his stained-glass masterpiece, The Eve of St Agne s (1924).


12 December 2020 – 14 February 2021

Curator: Michael Waldron
Designer: Barry McCarthy
Logo design: Mary Bulman / Blue Bamboo

with thanks to
Maeve Fleischmann, Ruth Fleischmann,
Kathryn Milligan, Éimear O'Connor, Jean O’Donovan,
Philip Roe, Logan Sisley, Dawn Williams

and the scholarship of
Nicola Gordon Bowe and Jessica O'Donnell

© Crawford Art Gallery (2020)
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