After winning a gold medal at the Dublin Art School in Ireland for his work The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, by St. Patrick in 1910, Clarke continued his education in stained glass work and then moved to London when his schooling was complete.
There, his interest in stained glass continued though he initially sought work as a book illustrator. Clarke’s work shows a clear influence by other illustrators of his time, including Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen and Aubrey Beardsley. This appears to have served him well, since he was hired by the publisher George Harrap to illustrate a version of Hans Christen Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a fairly young and untested new discovery.
Over the next 15 years, Clarke managed to complete illustrations for 6 books, including an edition of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. His illustrations for this book are the source of my introduction to Clarke, as I discovered them while reading my parent’s copy when I was very young and was fascinated by their intricacy, but also by their grotesqueness.
Throughout his life, Clarke remained loyal to his first passion, stained glass. While he contributed his illustration talents to only a small number of major books, he also managed to create over 130 stained glass pieces through his studio. Still, he clearly raised the bar for intricacy and detail in illustrative works and his stained glass expertise had a profound effect on this aspect of his legacy. Clarke and his brother worked together and both were ill of health in their later years (toxic chemicals used in stained glass are one of the suspected culprits). Both died within a year of each other, Clarke in 1931.