08 : James Clark – biographical note

The large mural painting in the apse is the undoubted glory of St Barnabas church, and is the work of James Clark. He was born in West Hartlepool in 1857, the eldest of a family of seven.   He left school at the age of 12 and worked as a draughtsman. In 1878 he won a scholarship to the National Art Training School (now the Royal College of Art), where he won the Gold medal for Watercolour studies.   He studied there for two years and then studied in Paris for another two years. He married Elizabeth Hunter in 1882, and they had six children. He returned to West Hartlepool in 1882 before moving to Chelsea in 1885, and in 1914 moved to 44 Rusthall Avenue, Bedford Park, Chiswick, where he had his studio, and where he undertook the St Barnabas Apse painting. He was based in London for most of the rest of his life.


The Great Sacrifice

He was an exceptionally versatile artist, covering a wide range of subjects (portraits, landscapes, genre paintings etc.) including the design of stained glass windows. He was a deeply religious man and much of his work was religious in character.  He spent two periods in Palestine (in 1886 and 1896) sketching and drawing scenes of everyday life.   He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy and elsewhere.  His most famous picture was ‘The Great Sacrifice’, painted in 1914, which Queen Mary bought for her cousin, Princess Beatrice, whose son was killed in the first world war. The painting had an immediate general appeal, and prints were obtained by churches, schools, and mission halls. One reviewer stated that the print had “turned railway bookstalls into wayside shrines”, and the painting gave consolation to many who had been bereaved.   Princess Beatrice presented the original to St Mildred’s Church, Whippingham, on the Isle Of Wight.

James Clark left Bedford Park at the outbreak of WW2 and moved to Reigate Surrey to share a home with a daughter. He died in Reigate on January 10th 1943.

I am grateful to the Clark family for information about the artist, and for the following photographs and images.


Clark painting in 1908


Red cross volunteer WWI


with his wife on his Diamond Wedding


With his extended family


Here is his home and studio (44 Rusthall Avenue, Bedford Park, Chiswick) and 3 self-portraits

clark-7 clark-4 clark-3 clark-2

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