Saturday, May 12, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe, Illustrated

Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

In 1975 I acquired an edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination.  Published by the Easton Press, this edition included stunning aquatints by William Sharp that were first reproduced in 1941.  The illustration shown is for one of my favorite tales, "William Wilson" - a classic doppelganger story.

But I still remember the first time I read Poe in an edition that was on the bookshelf in the home were I grew up.  This was a reprint of the 1908 collection of short stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination and had undoubtedly been reprinted many times before the edition that was on my parent's shelf.  These images were drawn to accompany an early collection of Poe’s darker short stories, and they hearken back to a golden age of commercial illustration.  They were illustrations the Irish illustrator Harry Clarke, whose ink illustrations brought Poe’s characters to life with mesmerizing detail.  I would open the book and the eeriness of the stories were enhanced by the illustrations that I would sometimes study, focusing on a single image indefinitely, returning to it with every reading. These drawings invited me into Poe's world, strange and sometimes obscure.

Despite being known mainly for his illustration work today, these drawings were not the primary work of this distinguished early twentieth-century artist.  The son of a craftsman, Joshua Clarke, Clarke the younger was exposed to art (and in particular Art Nouveau) at an early age. He went to school in Belvedere College in Dublin. By his late teens, he was studying stained glass at the Dublin Art School. While there his The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, by St. Patrick won the gold medal for stained glass work in the 1910 Board of Education National Competition.
Completing his education in his main field, Clarke travelled to London, where he sought employment as a book illustrator. Picked up by London publisher Harrap, he started with two commissions which were never completed: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (his work on which was destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising) and an illustrated edition of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock.  Difficulties with these projects made Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen his first printed work, however, in 1916—a title that included 16 colour plates and more than 24 monotone illustrations. This was closely followed by an illustrations for an edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination: the first version of that title was restricted to monotone illustrations, while a second iteration with 8 colour plates and more than 24 monotone images was published in 1923.  However, stained glass was central to Clarke's career.   Clarke's stained glass work includes many religious windows but also much secular stained glass.  Unfortunately, ill health plagued both the Clarke brothers, and worn down by the pace of their work, and perhaps the toxic chemicals used in stained glass production, both died within a year of each other—Harry second in early 1931, of tuberculosis while trying to recuperate in Switzerland.
Clarke's work was influenced by both the passing Art Nouveau and coming Art Deco movements. His stained glass was particularly informed by the French Symbolist movement.
Two of his illustrations for Poe's Tales are shown above and to the right.  For more of his illustrations for Poe with commentary visit .


Calabama said...

Wow! I've never seen Clarke before -- he's amazing! Echoes of Rackham, Pogany and Beardsley; that wonderful Nouveau/deco morph. Thanks for posting.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. The illustrations were an integral part of my first experience reading Poe's stories.