An Irish Surprise in Miami

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Having explored the art deco architectural masterpieces of South Beach I eventually ended up in the Wolfsonian Museum where I stumbled upon an Irish delight: the Harry Clarke Geneva Window. Clarke was a noted book illustrator in the early part of the 20th century, but is even better known for his stained glass windows. I’ll certainly pay more attention to his windows in Bewley’s Café in Dublin next time I’m there.

The window was created for the International Labour Court in Geneva and its eight panels illustrate works by 15 noted Irish writers. Unfortunately the Irish government soon had second thoughts about the idea, both the writers (too many of them not even good Catholics), their works (James Joyce featured, but certainly not for Ulysses) and the illustrations. Eventually the window was rejected, since it was not ‘representative of Irish literature and culture.’

IMG_0421 - Harry Clarke window 542▲ The dancers of The Others by Seamus O’Sullivan was one of the panels which particularly worried the critics.

IMG_0416 - Harry Clarke window 542Deirdre by George ‘AE’ Russell.

The window for Mr Gilhooley by Liam O’ Flaherty was definitely a problem, the gentleman in question has a cigar in one hand, a glass of whiskey in the other and a suggestive leer for the near naked woman swirling in front of him. Deirdre in the same panel doesn’t have much on either.

Poor Harry Clarke died in 1931 while the controversy about his work continued. Eventually his widow bought it back from the government in 1932 and from there it ricocheted around assorted Dublin locations, including 17 years from 1963 to 1980 in the Dublin Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, where it eventually ended up in storage. The Wolfsonian Foundation bought it in 1988 for a sum ‘in excess of £100,000’ and it moved across the Atlantic to its current home. It’s a sad tale for such a beautiful piece of work. Check this account in the Irish Arts Review for more information.