Eularia Clarke: Painter of Religion

by Rebecca Sherlaw-Johnson, Amazon, £15

The painter Eularia Clarke is not well known. I hope this comprehensive biography, written by her granddaughter, will go some way to remedy this. Her paintings deserve wider recognition and appreciation – her life, with its many tribulations and rarer triumphs, cannot be separated from them.

Born into a musical and artistic family, middle class but with little money, Eularia suffered from genteel poverty for most of her life. Her circumstances were not helped by a brief marriage in 1937 to a charming but profligate musician, Cyril Clarke. By the end of the war he had abandoned her, leaving her with two young children.

It was during a visit to Florence when she was 16 that she realised “I want to be a religious artist like Fra Angelico.” His frescoes in San Marco stirred all Eularia’s latent spiritual yearnings, alongside a powerful urge to translate these on to canvas, though she came from an essentially agnostic family. Yet it was to be 30 years before she could realise this secret dream. Struggling as a single parent, forced to take a variety of jobs simply to make ends meet, such as teaching in prep schools and giving peripatetic music lessons, left her no time or energy to fulfil her artistic calling.

Several elements eventually combined to change her circumstances: scraping together the money to buy a small cottage in Winchester in 1949 gave the family much-needed stability. Her two children, Rachael and James, gradually began to lead more independent lives – and, in 1959, she became a Catholic. This, as she wrote later with wry humour, came about after meeting a young musician, John Stallard, in 1956. Playing with him in amateur quartets, she once heard him say: “Damn, I’ve got to go to Mass.” She commented: “This remark brought me into the Catholic Church.”

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