If Harry Clarke’s name comes up in conversation these days, it’s likely in reference to his stained glass work. At least, that’s what keeps his reputation up in the fine art world. He started, however, as a book illustrator in the Golden Age of book illustration and his early reputation in that field put him up among the greats. His most widely available work these days, as far as I can tell, are his illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Magic and Mystery, found in numerous cheap reprint editions. Not that that is a bad thing. Even though the prints are often a bit on the muddy side, Clarke’s imagination, style and attention to detail can claw their way through multiple layers of smudged ink with relative ease. The Wikipedia article linked to above says his work was compared to Beardsley and Nielsen, and if you’re familiar with those artists, you’ll immediately see why. Nielsen’s art takes stylization much farther and, at least to me, has a more Nordic flavor; Beardley’s work is less baroque and more disturbing on a subconscious and sexual level; Clarke, though, is my favorite as far as a sense of mystery and otherworldliness. Unlike Sidney Sime, Clarke doesn’t let whimsy intrude in his pictures, at least not often. Even some of his religious work in stained glass has a bit of the nightmare about it.
I’m not sure he would be a particular good choice to illustrate Lovecraft. His style has that decadent feeling of the late 19th century, which is perfect for Poe but seems overwrought for HPL’s fiction. At any rate, his work deserves broader recognition among fans today than it has. Hopefully, the gallery below will help the word spread.