A stained-glass work by Harry Clarke is an extreme rarity at auction. He only made a few pieces of domestic scale so appearances of his works at auction are generally confined to drawings and watercolours. There are some of his works in national collections. However, most of his stained glass art in Ireland is in churches around the country. You’ll find examples in Cloughjordan, Carrickmacross, Kilrush and Castletownshend, to name but a few. Adam’s has an exquisite panel by the artist at its March auction; Bluebeard’s Last Wife is far removed from the religious themes we associate with much of Clarke’s work. It was created for the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland exhibition in 1921 and inspired by the French folktales of Charles Perrault. The Bluebeard story was fashionable then with an opera by Bartók (La Barbe Bleue) and various adaptations by the Ballet Russes. The panel shows Bluebeard’s bride walking over a bridge towards a potentially gory death. Bluebeard awaits her with his sword at the ready.
Those who are familiar with the story know that the old brute was thwarted by this last bride, so there’s a happy ending. Clarke’s life, sadly, had no such conclusion. He died prematurely in 1931 of tuberculosis at the age of forty-one. He was returning from a visit to Switzerland where he was seeking respite and died in the city of Chur. A confusion about the maintenance of his grave led to him being disinterred and buried in a common grave fifteen years later. Bluebeard’s Last Wife is housed in a five-sided mahogany and walnut cabinet that is a work of art in itself and was made by master cabinet-maker James Hicks of Dublin. The panel has been widely exhibited internationally, including in the artist’s 1979 retrospective and, most recently, in Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art exhibition ‘The Arts and Crafts Movement: Making it Irish’ in 2016. This unique work is guiding €80,000 to €120,000.