Sunday, 25 November 2007

Chagall, William Morris & Pugin: stained glass in Kent

Stained glass: the very phrase conjures up deeply coloured windows of biblical figures in dark churches or doors and fanlights in Victorian villas. But anyone who has seen Matisse's stunning stained glass windows in the Chapel de Rosaire just north of Vence in the South of France (see my blog archive for September) will agree that they are neither traditional or dark, the stylized and symbolic design in brightest yellow and blue.

Similarly, Braque's lovely stained glass window in the small chapel at the Foundation Maecht in St Paul de Vence. The simple, strong design shines with light through a prism of blues. Another artist who produced stained glass was Chagall and examples can be seen in the Chagall Museum in Nice although his most famous collection of stained glass are twelve windows in Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jeruslaem, depicting the tribes of Israel.

But a tiny medieval church in north Kent, of all places, also has a full set of Marc Chagall windows. Tudely is a small hamlet which boasts, pub, houses, farms and …..the Parish Church of All Saints. The first Chagall window was commissioned as a memorial to Sarah, the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d'Avigdor-Goldsmid. Tragically, she died in a sailing accident in 1963, aged 21, and is depicted in The East window floating on the waves.

To me, something that is long-lasting and enriches the lives of others - whether in planting trees and bulbs or commissioning and donating inspirational art works – are the most moving and wonderful of memorials. These windows certainly qualify: a further eleven windows commissioned by friends and family of the Goldsmid's replaced the original Victorian glass (now installed in the vestry) over the following years until Chagall's death in 1985.

The windows are marvellous works of art – the naivety of the designs suit the simplicity of the church - that not only inspire but fill the interior with light and beauty. Chagall was a good choice of artist for an Anglo/Jewish family because he believed in the unity of humanity. The colour blue predominates in the windows as he thought that this colour symbolized love and "love is as strong as death".

Chagall had become increasingly interested in painting for stained glass and this gives the windows an ethereal quality reminiscent of some of this paintings. Adam and Eve, birds, horses, fish and angels all feature in the scenes and as the sun shines through the windows the colours are reflected onto the window reveals and floor: the effect is beautiful and just a little bit magical. This added spirituality was exactly the effect that was intended in the earliest stained glass church windows. A wonderful memorial: visit to find out more.

The Gothic revivalist architect, A.W.N. Pugin, responsible for the new Houses of Parliament after they were gutted by fire in 1834, also designed stained glass windows in Kent. Next door to his house, The Grange in Ramsgate, he designed and built St Augustine's R.C.Church including the stained glass windows. These are deep and clear in colour but, like so much of Pugin's work, rich in medieval patterns of heraldic crests, stylized leaves, flowers and borders. To see examples visit

The work of yet another great artist and designer, William Morris, can also be found in Kent villages only a few miles from Tudeley. Morris was certainly a Renaissance man: artist, craftsman, designer, decorator, printer, writer, poet – you name it, he did it. He was a follower of The Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, a Gothic revivalist and a founder member of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Stained glass design and manufacture was one of Morris' early and great achievements in the art of nineteenth century Gothic revival. The windows he and his partners produced were colourful, inventive and well designed, among them those in Kent: a window by partner Edward Burne-Jones in St Mary's Church, Speldhurst is a good example. Visit to see a photograph of it and visit to see a cartoon of the window destined for the church of All Saints, Langton Green.

But, until very recently, I was completely unaware that even closer to Tudeley are two stained glass windows by the firm of Morris & Co in the parish church of St John the Evangelist, Hildenborough. I've visited the church several times but have as yet failed to find it open but I'll keep trying. It's great to find so much art right on my doorstep – the work of such brilliant designers: Chagall, Morris and Pugin.



Lucy said...

Andy Strowman emailed me to ask where he could see Chagall's windows: they are installed in The Parish Church of All Saints in Tudeley, near Tonbridge, Kent. A cab from the station will only take 10 minutes. Just 'google'in details to find out opening times.

Brilig said...

We visited the Tudely church soon after moving back to Kent - it had been featured in a South East today programme. I was surprised and amazed at the windows. Having spent a number of years in South Windledon very close to the Merton Abbey Mills, I have an interest in the works of William Morris so thanks for the info on the Hildenborogh church - we will visit soon.