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The Last Hour of the Night by Harry Clarke

Harry Clarke (1889–1931) was an Irish stained glass artist and book illustrator.

Born in Dublin, he was a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement. Clarke's stained glass appears in many Irish churches, perhaps his most seen work is the windows of Bewley's Café on Grafton Street. He also illustrated books by Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allan Poe.

                          

                          A drawing of Harry Clarke that appeared in The Irish Times of 17 April 1923

    

                         

                         

 

Clarke’s biographer Nicola Gordon Bowe describes his work reproduced and placed on O’Connell Street:

The Last Hour of the Night is one of the stranger expressions of his imagination. A bald, emaciated creature swathed in translucent strands of hair-like drapery stoops commandingly in the centre of the picture, cloven toes emerging from stubbly shins, and spindly hands extended on either side. On the left is a montage of Dublin’s finest buildings, all casualties of the Troubles – the Four Courts, above it the Custom House and, on, top, the General Post Office, all encased in flames. On the right of the figure a row of Dublin Georgian town houses stands, fallen into the decay typical of the twentieth-century state of so many of these once proud dwellings. Beneath the houses two policeman watch as children play on the street and weary-looking figures pass by. Above, in the top right hand corner a blazing star in the jet-black sky perhaps heralds some new hope for the city.

With the imagined socialist revolt of 1916 still in near memory, and the destruction of the Four Courts by Republicans in 1922 fresh in the city’s consciousness, Clarke’s drawing acts as a visual apparition of the flux and disorder of the past and potential futures of Dublin, an allegory for an urban form that is disorganized but recognizable, shifting and uncertain. The monumental figure stands in the midst of the city, dwarfing and destroying civic buildings, inducing chaos in a tenement block.

The original pen and ink drawing of The Last Hour of the Night is today lost. The version today visible on O’Connell Street is reproduced from the first page of a publication called Dublin of the Future published in 1922 by Liverpool University Press and Hodder & Stoughton, London, and printed by Browne and Nolan, Dublin. It featured the winning proposal for the urban regeneration of Dublin in 1916, by Patrick Abercrombie, Sydney Kelly, and Arthur Kelly, architects from Liverpool. Influenced by Baron Haussmann’s plans to clear away the medieval slums of Paris and create a kind of nineteenth century version of propriety, their plan suggests a new cathedral and campanile at the top of Capel Street, the construction of many new streets around the city centre, and enough suburban settlements for a population of 700,000. A version was adopted in 1939 by Dublin Corporation as the official city plan, but was never implemented.

 

                           

                           An illustration from Dublin of the Future, 1922.

                           The red lines detail the planned redevelopment of the city centre.

    

  A preliminary pencil sketch of The Last Hour of the Night still survives, and was exhibited at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College from November 13 - December 8 1979, alongside a copy of Dublin of the Future. It was mentioned in Nicola Gordon Bowe’s book, Harry Clarke: His Graphic Art (Mountrath and Los Angeles 1983), as well as being described and reproduced in The Life and Work of Harry Clarke (Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1989), by the same author. Further reproductions have appeared in Yvonne Whelan’s book Reinventing Modern Dublin (Dublin, 2003), and in the film documentary Harry Clarke – Darkness in Light by Camel Productions (Dublin, 2003).