Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Artists and Designers

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How do we define the artists responsible for stained glass windows? Very often windows were the product of the collaboration between a number of individuals, often working in large or small studios. This is still the same today, but, just as in the past, some artists are responsible for the design and complete manufacture of a window.

The relationships between those responsible for the design and making of a window are often poorly understood, and frequently the designer of a window has been celebrated in preference to the people who have interpreted their designs in glass, paint and lead. I was therefore interested to read the comments by Neil Moat in his recent review of the book for Vidimus: ‘in a welcome move, the names of executant studios take precedence over designers, except for those windows clearly the handiwork of a single artist.’

This is to say that in their captions, I have described windows as, for example:

Morris & Co., The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, 1898, designed by Edward Burne-Jones

rather than:

Edward Burne-Jones, The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, 1898, Morris & Co.

To choose another famous example, from the last century, windows designed by John Piper are commonly attributed to him, rather than Patrick Reyntiens, a significant artist in his own right, who painted and made them. This all seemed a little suspect to me, when so little credit has been given to cartoonists, glass painters and glaziers (often subsumed under the name of a studio or firm, such as Morris & Co., C.E. Kempe & Co., or more recently in Wales, Celtic Studios). The precedence of the designer as the principal artist is sometimes well-justified, particularly when they actively supervised the making of the windows that they designed, but often we simply do not know the extent to which this was the case. For example, Burne-Jones designed figures and scenes as well as drawing cartoons for windows, but left their production in glass to the studio.

I did give this a lot of thought while writing the book, balancing what is known about larger stained glass studios of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with contemporary practice and my own interviews with artists who had collaborated with others. Other scholars, such as Martin Harrison in his seminal Victorian Stained Glass, also put the name of the studio before that of the designer. In the captions I gave precedence to the maker except in those cases where I judged that the maker was working under the close supervision of the designer as a controlling artist. In some cases I expect that this judgement will be proved wrong as the work of other scholars becomes available or other archives come to light. In some cases I simply failed to find sufficient information, for example I did not find the name of the maker used by Gerald Moira for his windows. Ideally the names of studios/makers and designers should be noted, but in the case of many windows neither are known.

All of this goes to the heart of what the Arts and Crafts Movement was all about, as a response to John Ruskin and to the interpretation of Ruskin’s work by William Morris, which afforded better acknowledgement and appreciation of the role of the craftsman or craftswoman. Even here there are inconsistencies; on p. 167, footnote 5, I quote Paul Thompson, who judged the stained glass production at Morris & Co. as ‘an extreme example of the division of labour’. At the very least attention should be drawn to the skill and ingenuity of the glass painters, studio managers and technicians who turned the vision of designers like Edward Burne-Jones into works of art in glass. In the case of Morris & Co. recent work on the employees of the firm has been published by Tony Benyon in vol. xxxv (2011) of The Journal of Stained Glass.

My thanks to Neil Moat for his observations on the book in Vidimus.

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