09 : James Clark Apse Painting

The Apse painting by James Clark depicts “the Three Hierarchies of Angels praising and adoring the Holy Trinity”.   The artist submitted a small watercolour for approval, and a photograph of this painting is shown.


The design was then enlarged and painted on canvas using spirit fresco. It is a massive painting, measuring 69ft in length and 25ft in height, and was painted in vertical strips in his studio at 44 Rusthall Avenue, Bedford Park.   Clark had rollers fixed to the floor and ceiling so that a length of canvas could be rolled up and raised or lowered at will.   He had never undertaken a painting of such a height, and had problems with obtaining the correct perspective of the upper portion of the painting, when viewed from ground level. After a trial hanging, he decided to repaint the whole of the top half of the first (central) strip. His daughter, Lilian, who was an art teacher and lived at home, helped him to enlarge the design from the watercolour painting and to transfer it to the canvas strips.   The canvases were then fixed to the plastered wall of the church using white lead.   After fixing, the painting required some touching up by James Clark, as shown in the two photographs. The painting was undertaken between 1917 and 1920 in 3 stages, and the two archangels, Gabriel and Michael, guarding the sanctuary were painted directly onto the plastered walls in 1920 .


Clark working on the painting


Clark working on the painting


Early photo before the south side was finished


Early photo showing the original clarity of the work

In 1934, James Clark wrote the following notes on his Barnabas Apse painting.

“1917 : From October until August of next year… I designed the whole scheme for my most important work, a wall painting to cover the entire chancel of St Barnabas Church, Ealing, finished the central portion and fixed it in situ.
1919 Finished and fixed up the second third of the St Barnabas chancel decoration on the South Side.

1920: Painted the third third of the St Barnabas Chancel wall painting and completed the single figures on either side of the Chancel arch. Very few came to see it when finished. It will be quickly forgotten who painted it. If it lasts a couple of centuries I wonder how then it will be estimated.   It is as good as Thornhill’s St Pauls work or Barry’s Adelphi decoration.”

It is noteworthy that Clark considered this to be his most important work.  Hopefully this website might help to ensure that the artist isn’t ‘quickly forgotten’ !  Some children in the congregation, reputedly Kathleen Lockyer and Dorothy Lawrence, acted as models for the ‘angels’ in the foreground of the painting.   Miss Lockyer played an important role in the life of the church over the next 80 years, notably as the driving force of the Brownies section of the St Barnabas Girl Guides and a member of the Parochial Church Council. She remained an active member of the church until she died in 1995.

Current photographs of the painting are shown on the next page


Early photo showing the original clarity of the ‘angels’ – best seen when enlarged

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