It is likely that most visitors to the Francis Bacon Studio in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery are so busy looking at what can be seen on the walls and behind glass screens that they rarely, if ever, glance upwards. Yet in one of the spaces there survives a rococo ceiling installed when this was part of the Earl of Charlemont’s library wing in his townhouse, designed by William Chambers and constructed in the 1760s. The greater part of that section of the original building was lost in 1931-33 when then-City Architect Horace O’Rourke converted the house into an art gallery but somehow this one ceiling, featuring interwoven garlands of leaves tied with trailing ribbon and a testament to the skill of an unknown stuccodore, has survived.
A detail of Harry Clarke’s Eve of St Agnes window, now in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin. Inspired by Keats’ poem of the same name, the window was commissioned in 1923 by Harold Jacob (of the Jacob’s Biscuit family) for his father’s home on Ailesbury Road. Completed within a year, the window was duly installed and then moved to a couple of other properties before being acquired by the gallery forty years ago in 1978. The history of the window and the inspiration for its design (not least the influence of the Ballets Russes, and its sumptuous sets and costumes by the likes of Léon Bakst) in an essay by Jessica O’Donnell included in the just-published Harry Clarke and Artistic Visions of the New Irish State. The book seeks to contextualize the artist not just within Ireland but also the broader modernist movement by examining different aspects of his output: Angela Griffith, for example, writes on the two promotional booklets published by Jameson whiskey in the mid-1920s, for which Clarke provided illustrations, while Fiona Bateman looks at windows produced by the Clarke studios for Irish Catholic Missionaries in Africa (apparently many of these remain in churches in Kenya, Nigeria and other countries). Rightly dedicated to the memory of the late Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe (the first anniversary of whose death falls in a couple of weeks), the book further illuminates our knowledge of cultural life in Ireland during the first years of the independent state.