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Two volumes by Adrian Barlow appeared in 2018 and 2019 on the work of Charles Eamer Kempe. The first of these, Kempe: The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe, is an excellent biography and the second, Espying Heaven, is more of a picture book focussing on his stained glass, featuring photography by Alastair Carew-Cox. My thoughts on these books have been published on Vidimus, the online journal devoted to (mainly medieval) stained glass.
I had a nagging feeling that I didn’t do Kempe justice in my Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, but it was hard to do any of the similarly important Victorian firms sufficient justice in a book covering seven centuries, even if only two of those chapters covered the period before 1800.
The earlier work of Wyndham Hope Hughes is in evidence in the west window depicting musical angels at Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, and Barlow contrasts it with the four standing figures in the same church by John Carter, who was Kempe’s senior designer from 1878 until about 1895. The rather Pre-Raphaelite style of Hughes contrasts with the Gothic character most closely associated with Kempe, and for those less disposed to Kempe’s usual style, is perhaps surprisingly attractive.
From the mid 1890s, John Lisle is identified as Kempe’s main designer, and he remained as such until he died in 1927, continuing a style of design after Kempe’s death in 1907 under Water Tower. Tower was his cousin three times removed, and inherited Kempe’s business as well as his house at Old Place in Lindfield, Sussex.
As well as being responsible for all but one of the windows at the Church of St Mary Monmouth, and all of those at the Church of St John, Barmouth, Kempe’s Studio was responsible for large east windows in Wales at Haverfordwest, Pembroke, Builth Wells and Rossett, as well as a series of large windows in Wrexham, now at the Church of St Giles.
Kempe’s work is presented in the books without any illustrations of contemporary firms, and in works of biography there is a danger of seeing the subject in isolation. While Adrian Barlow is sensitive to detractors of Kempe’s style, and deftly balances criticism of his work, he goes as far as to suggest that only John Thornton of Coventry and Barnard Flower in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were as influential on the stained glass of their time. Admirers of A.W.N. Pugin, J.R. Clayton, William Morris, Henry Holiday or Christopher Whall might want to disagree with that.
In fact Kempe’s windows, designed by his Studio and made at his glassworks under his own name or as C.E. Kempe & Co. after 1907, are not quite as unique and recognisable as they might seem. It is true that many of the firms and artists whose work might be mistaken by the untrained eye for Kempe’s were imitators, and some were former employees. Nonetheless, Kempe’s windows are often easily identified by their wheatsheaf mark (superimposed by Tower’s tower after 1907, below centre), while Clayton & Bell and Burlison & Grylls rarely signed their windows, and others who made work in a similar style to Kempe, such as Percy Bacon Brothers or Charles Powell, only occasionally signed their work. I even once found a window by John Jennings misidentified as a window by Kempe in a church guide, because it had three wheatsheafs included in its heraldry (below right).
In his biography, Adrian Barlow explains the reason why Kempe’s name is more prevalent in Nikolaus Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’ series than many other firms. This was because of the lists of Kempe windows that were provided to Pevsner and his assistants, and had similar lists of other makers work been in circulation, they might have received better coverage. Barlow tries to suggest that Pevsner, hardly an enthusiast for the later Gothic Revival, was at least not anti-Kempe, and contributed to a revival of interest in his work. However, the evidence is a little thin. Citing an example where Pevsner rates a window of 1906 at St James, Sutton-on-Hull, as better than windows by Ward & Hughes from the 1870s and 80s at the same church, is not exactly high praise.
Kempe’s work is increasingly repetitive after 1900: there is little sign of innovation, and a sense that the firm was going through the motions. To some, such consistency of style is dull compared to the contemporary variation found in the work of James Powell & Sons and, to a lesser extent, Burlison & Grylls, while to others it might be seen for its strength and consistency of vision.
With such a high output, repetition is understandable and expected, as can be seen in details from the near contemporary east windows at Builth Wells and Rossett of similar dates. The scene of Christ carrying the cross shares common details in both depictions (over two lights at Builth, three at Rossett), but is reversed and is not exactly the same. In my recent little book of images of St David, I struggled to find any figures of the saint that reused designs or cartoons of others, which it was easy to do in the cases of Morris & Co., Shrigley & Hunt and Robert Newbery.
In Espying Heaven, small sets of illustrations show us examples of Kempe windows depicting particular subjects of different dates, and hint at the possibilities of making such comparisons. Of the largest stained glass firms, only Morris & Co. have been subject to the forensic indexing of designs and cartoons (published by A.C. Sewter in 1974), but with Philip Collins’ published Corpus of Kempe windows of 2000, much of the groundwork for such a task has been done. An online version of this, subject-indexed and with images, could really help us appreciate Kempe’s variety and ingenuity, as well as the necessity and extent to which designs were adapted and repeated.
In the meantime, the online Stained Glass in Wales catalogue remains the only place where it is possible to search for particular subjects by Kempe in order to compare them (or indeed those by other artists and firms). I was also grateful to the Kempe Trust for their financial assistance that enabled me to add more Kempe windows to the catalogue in 2018. Unfortunately it’s still not complete in its coverage of Kempe’s windows and presently restricted to Wales, as funding applications to expand the catalogue to cover other areas have not met with success.
These two books have much to offer to improve our understanding of Kempe’s work and those that he worked with. To order the books visit Lutterworth Press.
Books on stained glass and other ecclesiastical arts from the modern period tend to focus on an artist, studio or designer, on a period or movement, or on a single church or region. This new book does something different, and approaches the field by way of subject matter and iconography, in this case the imagery of a single saint.
About 170 images of David are depicted in the book, from 1840 up to 2015, and most are from churches from across Wales. Some are found in churches that are now closed.
It is common for writers on stained glass to note the tendency of artists and studios to reuse designs and cartoons, and occasionally illustrate examples, as I did in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. This book provided the opportunity to illustrate the reuse of designs by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, Morris & Co., Shrigley & Hunt, Burlison & Grylls and Robert Newbery, demonstrating that cartoons were not always copied exactly, and were sometimes subject to very different treatments.
For example, after going through all of the images of David that I have found, none of standing figures of St David by C.E. Kempe and his studio reuse the same design, although they are more than twenty in number. By contrast, I have identified eight figures of David by Robert Newbery that all use the same cartoon, which highlights two in particular that do not, in churches at Neath and Llansamlet. Initially I thought that there was a third ‘different’ image of David by Newbery at the Church of St Catherine, Pontypridd, in the west window. Having visited the church a few years ago, where the windows all bore the hallmarks of Newbery, I had assumed that all of the windows in the church were by him (except an obviously new work by Nicola Hopwood), although I was struck by the striking colour and quality of the west window. However, in the process of bringing together all of the images that I had found of David, I discovered that the figure of David in the west window at Pontypridd exactly matched another by Percy Bacon at Monkton Priory, thereby identifying this studio as the manufacturer of the west window at Pontypridd, and not Newbery. I nearly left the Monkton window out, but found a corner for it on my further reading page.
(see update below)
I have just recorded a piece about the book for ‘All Things Considered’, which is broadcast on Radio Wales. Among the things that I was asked was whether I might be annoyed if others wrote to me with further images of David that I had not included (making the assumption that all of the known images of David were illustrated in the book). I have well over a hundred further images of David on my list that there was not space to include, although the inclusion of some of them might have made the book itself rather repetitive, like the cartoons of stained glass. But there are certainly more to be found – as large or incidental figures in windows, and on reredoses and pulpits in various media. Many that I have come across were found by surprise, as probably less than half are documented in any published sources. As I continue to visit churches around Wales I am still finding more, and there are also more to be found outside Wales, although I have not the opportunity to research them.
Depicting St David is now available from the publisher, Y Lolfa, for £7.99 and will shortly be in bookshops, in time for 1 March, Gŵyl Dewi Sant, St David’s Day.
Update 2 September 2020
In the process of reviewing the references to windows by Percy Bacon Brothers at Monkton Priory, I returned to look again at my photographs of the various windows in the church. In the list of windows published by the British Society of Master Glass Painters of work produced by members in the previous twenty years (1930), windows by Percy Bacon include a series of windows in the chapel at Monkton Priory, and a four-light window (of the four evangelists) in the tower. The listing does not include the saints Nicholas, John, Alban and David in a very similar style, although the list makes no claims to be comprehensive, and is not.
It was my attribution of these four saints at Monkton Priory to Percy Bacon that made me reconsider the west window at Pontypridd, and attribute this to Percy Bacon as well, instead of Robert Newbery as I had assumed. The omission of the four saints from the list of windows by Percy Bacon made me look very closely at them and compare their treatment of the faces, the poses of the figures, the decorative detail and the lettering with others more securely attributable to Percy Bacon (at least one of which is signed). While they were close to the evangelists at the same church, I have come to the conclusion that I can find better matches for these elements in other windows by Robert Newbery of around 1920.
It therefore seems to me that my last-minute change of attribution for the image of David in the west window at Church of St Catherine, Pontypridd, was incorrect, and that this is in fact a design from Robert Newbery’s studio.
For some years I have been pondering on the attribution of four windows at the Chapel of St Non, which stands on the cliffs above St Nons Bay, near St Davids. The chapel was built in 1934 adjacent to St Non’s Well and the ruined medieval chapel, and was intended to provide a focus for Catholic devotion to St David and his mother, St Non.
The east window is signed and dated, both of which are something of a surprise. The window is dated 1920, before the chapel was built, as it was originally made for St Non’s House, while the name of the maker, ‘William Morris Westminster’, is not the William Morris known to most as the celebrated Victorian poet, artist and socialist, but an entirely unconnected designer of stained glass, whose work was popular in the 1920s and 30s.
The reason for my interest in other windows in the chapel is that they also depict Welsh saints and for some time I have been working on a book on the imagery of Welsh saints. One of the windows is a particularly fine one of St Brychan, who stands with the Nevern cross behind him. There is also a window depicting St David, and while I prepare the book, I have been working on a smaller study in the interim, on the imagery of St David, which is far more plentiful than the imagery of any other Welsh saint. So I wanted to include this window of David at St Non’s in this smaller book, which will be published shortly under the title Depicting St David.
There is a rather simple charm to the execution of the windows, and the figures have largely plain quarries around them and quite distinctive borders. I wondered whether they could be the work of John Hardman & Co., makers of many windows for Catholic patrons, but could not find any direct correlations. Another maker that I considered was Frederick Charles Eden, although none of the windows by him that I had come across appeared to be quite the same. I found that some had quite similar border patterns, but a similar kind of edging around the frame of a window was also used for windows by other studios, such as Burlison & Grylls and C.E. Kempe & Co. I even found a window that was almost certainly by the same maker, also in south-west Wales at Marros, although I could find no attribution for this window either, or any trace of any records that might help.
Not far away from Marros in Carmarthenshire is a complete set of windows at Eglwys Cymun that are thought to be the work of Frederick Eden, and span a period from 1906 to 1915. There are various differences in execution: some have none of the coloured bands and silver stained patterns around the edge of the windows, the style of text is different, and some have more decorative painted detail. This can be accounted for by the fact that during this period, in about 1909–10, Eden established his own studio to make the windows that he designed. As the last are nearly twenty years earlier than the windows at St Non’s, direct correlations need not be expected, even if the same designer or maker was responsible. Nonetheless I kept returning to what little I could find by Eden online and in my archive, because I sensed similarities in the painterly style and in the borders and lettering found at St Non’s, and at Marros.
As a result of this search, in which I also sought to find out about the studios that Eden worked with prior to the establishment of his own (I’m sure that I have come across or been told about a reference to a firm that he worked with somewhere before!), I discovered that a summary catalogue of Eden’s drawings from c. 1909–44 in the V&A Art and Design Archive was available online. I was delighted, and lucky, to find an entry for ‘Four grouped lancets’ for ‘St. Non’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire’. Nothing is included in the list for Marros, or Eglwys Cymun, so the list is far from a complete list of his windows. I did however note a design for St Deiniol and St Christopher, which I surmised would probably be in Wales somewhere, and concluded that it was one of the porch windows at the Church of St Deiniol, Hawarden. This window had been attributed to Haswall or (possibly Frank) Haswell in Malcolm Seaborne’s list of stained glass in Flintshire Churches, even though its companion window of the same date was attributed to Eden by Seaborne.
Another researcher who has used the V&A Art and Design Archive for researching windows in Wales is Peter Jones, who had kindly provided confirmation of my tentative attribution of Eden’s work at Llanfairfechan, and submitted another window by Eden at Llanbedr-y-cennin to the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue some years ago.
While continuing to search for more windows by Eden online, I did discover a very good match for the figure of David at St Nons, in the guise of Nicholas at the Church of St Peter, Henfield, and dated 1935, which has been added to Wikipedia. It also shares the same kind of lettering, painterly style and borders as the St Non’s windows. But as Peter Jones noted in his comment on the Llanfairfechan window, Eden had a severe stroke in 1934, around the time that the St Non’s windows were made. That a window so similar was made by Eden’s studio in 1935 suggests that by this stage the studio was able to continue to produce windows in his idiom without his direct involvement, and that a house-style was in full swing and could be replicated as required.
Plenty of questions remain, such as the name(s) of the studio that made Eden’s windows prior to the establishment of his own stained glass studio, and also the identities of the painters and glaziers who worked for him into the 1930s. But at least I am convinced that the four windows in the north and south walls of the chapel at St Nons are his designs and almost certainly the product of his studio, and I can attribute them as such in the book.
My thanks to Elizabeth Siberry for reviewing Stained Glass from Welsh Churches in the 2015 issue of Brycheiniog, the journal of the Brecknock Society and Museum Friends.
She mentions two shortcomings of the book. One was that the locations of the churches in remote locations will be unfamiliar to those without a good knowledge of Wales, and I am reminded that I had intended to add a map to the volume to help with this. As things worked out I simply ran out of time when completing the design of the book this time last year, although I had not yet worked out in my mind how I was going to reference several hundred place-names on a single map.
The other was that there are important windows in the old county of Breconshire (Brecknock) that are not mentioned in the book (as there are throughout Wales). One that she mentions is John Petts’ east window of 1989 at the Church of St Mary, Brecon, which I overlooked in favour of other windows by the artist, partly because it was included at a generous size in Alison Smith’s chapter on the work of the artist in the 2010 volume Biblical Art from Wales. In fact I tried to complement the illustrations in her chapter by including photographs of windows for which only the cartoons were illustrated, and his east window at Llansteffan, which was represented in Alison Smith’s chapter by a photograph of him working on the window. In this instance the window was reproduced in the Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion Pevsner (2006), but as it was such a personal window, it seemed particularly important to the history of stained glass in Wales.
Stained Glass from Welsh Churches is an attempt to present a full range of stained glass in the churches of Wales, and a book of the best stained glass in Wales would have been a different book and even more subjective.
Mentioned in the review are Carl Edwards’ windows at Llyswen and David Pearl’s windows at the (now closed) Catholic church in Crickhowell, and these are perhaps of particular importance. Also in the book from the old county are details from the fine Tractarian church at Beulah and the excellent Modernist work of Harry Harvey at Maesmynys (the images far too small to show off this window).
So what else from Breconshire might have deserved a mention in the book? Along with John Petts’ window in Brecon there are good windows by Powell’s and Horace Wilkinson in Brecon Cathedral. Another important work in Brecon is the unusual window by Clayton & Bell to J.P. Seddon’s design at Christ College Chapel, Brecon, which merited a colour illustration in Martin Harrison’s Victorian Stained Glass (1980). Now part of Brecon, the church of Llanfaes is represented in the book by a late Morris & Co. window, but not the east window designed by James Hogan at Powell’s in 1924.
At Builth Wells I found and illustrated a small window in Alpha Chapel that I attributed to Burlison & Grylls, partly because of the amount of their late work in the area, notably nearby at the parish church where there are large late works by them. There is also a large east window of by C.E. Kempe that I tried, and failed, to find a home for in the book.
A search for windows in the county is possible by searching for churches in the county of Breconshire/Brecknockshire on the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue, although I have much more to add from my archive when I have time one day. The catalogue also shows locations of the churches listed on Google maps.
And if you’re wondering where Breconshire is, it’s the lower part of central Wales.
The First World War memorial window by Karl Parsons at the Church of St Mary, Tenby, made a memorable impression on me when I saw it in 2006, not long after I began to record biblical stained glass in Wales as part of the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ research project. Its inventiveness of design, use of colour, and attention to detail in each piece of glass distinguishes it as perhaps the finest stained glass window in the county.
The window is illustrated in a full-page illustration in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, and makes a clear contrast with another First World War memorial, dedicated not to the memory of a single soldier, but to all the men of the parish who died in the war, by the firm of C.E. Kempe.
As in the case of many windows illustrated in the book, there is no space for a more detailed analysis of the complex imagery of the Parsons window, and the illustration of any details. This has now been remedied with a booklet illustrating and describing all of the stained glass at the church, which was launched on Sunday (28 September) during the morning service. The book was funded by the Friends of St Mary’s and sales will contribute towards the upkeep of this important historic church.
As well as these war memorial windows, there are nineteenth-century windows by William Wailes and Clayton & Bell, two smaller windows by Karl Parsons and C.E. Kempe & Co. and a window of the 1950s by John Hardman Studios. While researching for the booklet I was pleased to find correspondence relating to the first window commissioned from Karl Parsons (in 1908) at Pembrokeshire Archives, which provides an insight into the appointment of the artist and his status as a pupil of Christopher Whall.
Unfortunately I was unable to find the name of the designer or the studio responsible for the little window of Faith, Hope and Charity in the south wall, but papers in the National Library of Wales did allude to some controversy over its use of imagery.
The windows at the church can all be viewed on the online Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue, and I would be grateful for any suggestions of the maker of the Faith, Hope and Charity window. Perhaps it was made by another artist based at the Glass House, Fulham, where Karl Parsons had a studio, or perhaps by one of the students trained at the Birmingham School of Art. The website accepts comments on sites, artists/studios and individual windows. Copies of the booklet (priced £2.50) can be obtained from the church (or I can forward requests for the booklet if you contact me via my website).