Thursday, February 09, 2006

Holiday glass

click photo to enlarge
The artist, Henry Holiday (1839 - 1927) deserves to be better known. His paintings, stained glass, and writing are invariably rewarding to look at, and show a very individual growth within the Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic and Arts & Craft movements. As a young painter he was influenced by, and knew, the principal Pre-Raphaelites - Millais, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt - and received encouragement from John Ruskin.

In 1863 he began his work in stained glass when he joined Powell & Sons, taking over as chief designer from Edward Burne-Jones who had moved to William Morris' company. His visit to Italy in 1867 exposed him to the Renaissance masters, and their influence stayed with him. Journeys to Egypt, India and the United States later in his career also left their mark. His stained glass can be seen throughout the UK and in the US in New York, Washington and Richmond.

The glass shown here is in Muncaster Church, Cumbria, and dates from the 1880s. It is striking among English work for its large flattish areas of colour combined with light modelling elsewhere and strong lead outlining. This isn't a particular characteristic of Holiday: in fact his style changes markedly over the years, and I didn't realise the windows were by him when I first saw them. The "Rosetti" noses and mouths and the sensual line of the figures betray the Pre-Raphaelite influence, and the colours and compositions owe something to Burne-Jones. However, the total effect is Holiday's own, and quite beautiful.

Stained glass in Britain can be found dating from the 1100s (e.g. York Minster), through to the present day, and photographing it is interesting and rewarding. The most important requirement for a good result is under-exposure so that light areas of glass do not lose their definition. Spot metering can help here. A tripod is essential too (though the photograph above was hand-held at 1/40 second). The best sort of day to photograph stained glass is bright but cloudy: paradoxically, sunlight can be a real problem. Foliage and buildings outside the church can affect the brightness of areas of glass, particularly in the lower part of the window: again, white cloud is the best background. Post processing is helpful in matching colours, but good results are never going to be achieved without that essential underexposure!
photograph & text (c) T.Boughen