The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931


The Masque of the Red Death.

Halloween approaches so let’s consider the finest illustrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Irish artist Harry Clarke. Aubrey Beardsley once declared “I am grotesque or I am nothing” yet even his grotesquery—which could be considerable—struggled to do justice to Poe. Clarke, the best of the post-Beardsley illustrators, found a perfect match in the Boston writer’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, his edition being published by Harrap in 1919. He could decorate fairy tales with the best of the great Edwardian book illustrators but a flair for the morbid blossomed when he found Poe. Only his later masterpiece, Goethe’s Faust, improved on the dark splendour of these drawings. “Never before have these marvellous tales been visually interpreted with such flesh-creeping, brain-tainting illusions of horror, terror and the unspeakable” wrote a critic in The Studio.

Lots more pictures at Grandma’s Graphics (although none of the colour plates, unfortunately) including many of the Faust drawings. Wikipedia has photos of some of Clarke’s incredible stained-glass windows, as does Bud Plant’s biography page.




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9 thoughts on “The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931”

  1. I have an edition of Poe with illustrations by many of the great illustrators – Rackham, Beardsley, Doré and Clarke among them, and the Clarke drawings are far and away the ones most in tune with Poe’s macabre style. Perhaps the fact that Poe, too, was of Irish descent might have some bearing on how well Harry Clarke tapped into the writer’s extraordinary imagination.

  2. You may be pleased to know that, now that I’m checking the Grandma’s Graphics site three years later, they do have the color illustrations up.

  3. I love all his work, needless to say, but the Faust drawings are something else, a world away from the cute fairy scenes of other illustrators. His Swinburne drawings are also worthy of note. Will at A Journey Round My Skull posted scans recently.

  4. Also look out for ‘The Life and Work of Harry Clarke’ by Nicola Gordon Bowe, (Irish academic Press1989) which has some (not enough) colour plates of his stained glass windows. I found mine on Amazon, can’t remember how much it was, which tells me it wasn’t that expensive.

    I also remember The fall using one nof his illustatins from Faust(?) as an advert because the main character in the picture was the dead spit of Mark E Smith.

  5. I have the Faust book…when i opened it up..i was astounded by the art work of Harry Clarke…had a binder make a folding box for it to keep it to study it..will sell it if the right offer comes along..

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