Artists of the Cathedral

Esmond Burton

Esmond Burton sculpted the tympanum over the central archway of the west doors. His work can also be seen at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, the Dutch Church, London and Parham House in the South Downs.

The Naval Memorial commemorates officers ranks and ratings of this port who died at sea during the wars 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. The architect for the Second World War extension at Portsmouth was Sir Edward Maufe (who also designed the Air Forces memorial at Runnymede) and the additional sculpture was by Charles Wheeler, William McMillan, and Esmond Burton.

Burton sculpted the Royal Monograms at the Dutch Church. There are four of these, each being approximately 120cm high. On the W. wall the monogram of George VI is at the centre, flanked to the left by that of Queen Juliana, and to the right by that of Queen Wilhelmina. Over the entrance to the church is the cypher of Edward VI. Burton completed commissions at Parham House in the South Downs where in 1935 he was engaged to add plaster ceilings in the Elizabethan style.

Morris Harding 1874- 1964

Morris Harding RBS, RHA sculptor. Born at Stevenage, Herts, on 29 April 1874, Harding was trained in the studio of his uncle, Harry Bates, ARA (1850-99) and also worked under J.M. Swan, RA (1847-1910). Four of Swan’s animal sketches were presented by Harding to the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, and a sculpture in plaster, Angel, is also at the Ulster Museum. Harding taught modelling, stone carving and life drawing at the London County Council Technical Institute.

He came into early prominence with a life-size figure of G.K. Vansittart-Neale, who died at Eton, aged fourteen, in 1904. This is in the Church of All Saints, Bisham, Bucks; the subject’s dog, Norman was taken from life. A marble, Polar Bears at Play, 1909, is at Queen’s University, Belfast, presented by the artist.

This rare portrait of Harding by the artist Poppy Mollan came onto the local art market and was generously purchased and presented to St Anne’s by a donor who wished to remain anonymous. This striking portrait of Harding is now hanging in the ambulatory of the cathedral. The Dean of Belfast, the Very Revd John Mann, who in 2012 unveiled a Blue Plaque in commemoration of Morris Harding outside the artist’s home at Church Road, Holywood, said, ‘I am delighted that the cathedral has been so generously presented with this painting by a philanthropic donor. Morris Harding made a remarkable contribution to the visual impact of this special sacred space and it is fitting that his portrait is now on display here.’

Harding exhibited at the Royal Academy, the London Salon, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts; and also showed at Milan. Elected a member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1912, he became a member of the Society of Animal Painters in 1921. His war memorial for Eastergate Village, Sussex, which was erected in 1921, is surmounted by a lion. In a search for work four years later he called to see Sir Charles Nicholson who, as consulting architect, asked if he would like to take on St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. Harding, with a family to consider, did not hesitate. A fortnight later he was in Belfast, standing on scaffolding as snow fell on his head.

In 1927 he joined the Belfast Art Society. He was a great friend and admirer of Rosamond Praeger until her death in 1954; their work in the cathedral shows a sharing of style and a commitment to excellence deserving of the setting. Praeger guided him to Holywood, Co Down, and they shared St. Brigid’s Studios, occasionally issuing invitation cards for ‘At Homes’. Harding rented a flat on the ground floor, and that was the address he gave when he exhibited Leopard and Cub at the 1929 Royal Hibernian Academy. Altogether at the Dublin exhibition, up until 1953, he contributed nearly fifty works, showing the occasional tiger, wild boar, polar bear, lion and greyhounds for good measure.

The Belfast Cathedral commission was to become the major work of his career, spending some twelve years working on six of the nave columns, also groups in the portals of the West Front, which he completed first. Miss Rita Harding, his daughter, advised Theo. Snoddy in 1977 that the capitals her father was responsible for were: Arts, Linen, Music, Science, Shipbuilding, and Motherhood. He also did a series of portraits of dignitaries of the Irish Church, and when he could not find photographs or illustrations of some of the clerics he had been asked to include, he used, sometimes without their knowledge, some Church dignitaries with whom he was familiar. The model for his recording angel was a well-known local journalist, not of the Protestant faith. Another model, unknown to her, was a girl who passed by the cathedral every morning; he made a clay model and later she appeared on the Music pillar.

When working on the Motherhood pillar his model was a woman ‘drawn to the cathedral like a magnet’. Poor and working-class, she always carried a child in her arms and often commented on the work in progress. With more glee than pride, he introduced his own figure into the Arts pillar and, characteristically, he holds a hammer. High up on the west front are four unusual little groups: The Four Aces. Industry is represented by a man digging with a spade; Strife by two men fighting with clubs; Hearts by a man and a girl holding hands; and Diamonds by a miser with his foot on a diamond.

Morris Harding was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1919, a member of the Society of Animal Painters in 1921 and was a President of the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts and a member of the Royal Hibernian Society. Closely involved in the artistic life of Northern Ireland, he became an academician of the Ulster Academy of Arts in 1931. In 1947 he assumed the presidency of the Ulster Academy, holding office until he retired in 1957 as president of the Royal Ulster Academy.

In 1933 he was appointed ARHA and in the same year a full member. In 1933 he exhibited at the RHA, The later Dean of Belfast and Canon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the Very Rev. Henry R Brett, MA, and Mrs Brett. Among other works at that exhibition was Polar Bear and Seals in alabaster.

At the Belfast exhibition, busts of local personalities would appear, for example; Jimmy Warnock, 1937; Alderman Thomas Henderson, MP, 1950; and in 1947 at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, where he had a joint exhibition with W.R. Gordon, Field-Marshall Lord Montgomery, a head. Other commissions in Belfast included: front and side chapel reredos for St. Peter’s Church, Antrim Road; the Royal Coat of Arms at Telephone House; lioness with cubs over doorway at the Masonic Hall, Crumlin Road; the Civil Service War Memorial in the Old Parliament Buildings. Coats of Arms at the old Government House, Hillsborough, Co Down, for the Duke of Abercorn and Earl Granville, were carved by him. His last big work was the tomb for the seventh Lord Londonderry, at Mount Stewart, Co Down, and he was also responsible for Lady Londonderry’s tomb, commissioned in advance of her death.

In 1938 Harding had been responsible for a frieze 45.7 metres long, 1.2 metres deep with fifteen panels, for the Northern Ireland Government’s pavilion at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition, and was assisted by Poppy Mollan and John Luke (q.v.), who did the sketches full size in crayon and then boldly outlined them in charcoal. Harding, using a gouge, incised the wood fibre board up to half an inch in depth. All the major industries of Northern Ireland were portrayed in the main series of panels, and there was a tourist and sporting section of three panels.

In 1951 he was one of eleven artists invited to exhibit in the Contemporary Ulster Art exhibition held for Festival 1951 at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, and two years later at the same venue he was represented in an exhibition of sculpture, organised by Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. Awarded the OBE in 1950, and holder of a Civil pension, he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Queen’s University in 1958. He was too frail to attend the ceremony and was robed in his Holywood home, Church Road. He died there on 15 January 1964. He died a widower and was survived by his daughter Rita.

Head of Leopard
Charcoal and pastel on blue paper 14.8 x 25.6 cms.
Purchased: Armagh 1978.

Crouching Leopard
Pastel on blue paper 17.8 x 25.9 cms.
Inscribed: Dated 7-12-24.
Purchased: Armagh 1978.

Female Figure
Pencil and crayon on white paper 25.7 x 14.6 cms.
Purchased: Armagh 1979.

Head of Tiger
Pencil and watercolour on white paper 22.8 x 20.2 cms.
Purchased: Armagh 1978.

Jeremy Taylor
Pencil on white paper 22.6 x 15.6 cms.
Inscribed: Jeremy Taylor on base of bust
Purchased: Armagh 1979.

Reclining Female Nude
Pencil on white paper 15.1 x 22.1 cms.
Purchased: Armagh 1978.

William Bedell
Pencil on white paper 17.0 x 17.1 cms.
Inscribed: Bedell top right.
Purchased: Armagh 1979.

The Martin Sisters

The Martin Sisters were responsible for creating the mosaics in Belfast Cathedral.

Gertrude was born at 6 Belle Vue, Thornton Park, Heath, Swindon, the fourth of George (an insurance broker’s clerk) and Harriet Martin’s 10 children. Baptised 18th January, 1882.

Sisters Gertrude, Margaret (Madge) and Dora were apprenticed to George Bridge, artist and mosaicist. Gertrude studied mosaics in Ravenna , Milan and Venice and in 1913 she made the Isaiah mosaic in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Cathedral.

In the 1920s the sisters worked on the Central Lobby of the Houses of Parliament—figures of St Patrick and St Andrew (designed by Robert Anning-Bell).

Between 1928-1932 Gertrude and Margaret worked in Belfast Cathedral to produce the Creation mosaic in the Baptistry (1928); the tympanum above the west door erected in memory of St Anne’s choirmen killed in the First World War (1929); the seraphim ceiling of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit (1932); the St Patrick mosaic above the entrance to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit (1932); and, presumably, the tympana above the north and south doors.

In the Patrick mosaic the saint stands in the centre of the upper section dressed as a bishop and holding a shamrock. Tradition says he used the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity: three persons/one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The woman on the left, blindfolded and manacled, represents pagan Ireland; stones and thistles dot the landscape and the sky is dark. The ribbon she holds says “Out of the deep have I called unto thee”. The other woman, free and standing in a brightly lit scene, is Christian Ireland, illuminated by the light of the Gospel. Her ribbon says “My eyes have seen thy salvation”. Underneath, Patrick is shown standing in the prow of his ship as it passes the Mourne Mountains—he landed in county Down. A new day—Christianity—is dawning.

The shield/flag at Patrick’s feet, oddly, depicts the cross of St Andrew.

The dome of the baptistery shows the hand of God blessing His creation which is represented by the four classical elements, water, earth, air and fire.

Mrs Winston Churchill obtained a small civil list pension for Gertrude.

Gertrude Martin died February, 1952.

Sophia Rosamond Praeger HRHA MA MBE 1867-1954

Sophia Rosamond Praeger was born in Holywood, Co Down and educated at Sullivan School, the Belfast School of Art and for four years studied at the Slade School of Art in London. She also studied art in Paris.

She wrote and illustrated children’s books, but is best known as a sculptress with a talent for “extraordinarily sensitive modelling” and an ability to capture “the softly rounded grace and mobility of small children’s bodies”.

Her work in Belfast Cathedral includes the heads of the children above the font in the baptistry and the respond of Justice which is at the east end of the north arcade, adjacent to the chancel arch, and shows Moses holding the tablets on which were engraved the Ten Commandments.

Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Ulster Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland .Amongst her works are:

– The Philosopher (which was shown at the Royal Academy) and is now in Colorado Springs, U.S.A. – Her well-loved Johnny The Jig is to be seen in Holywood (between the Maypole and the Priory).

– Fionnuala, the Daughter of Lir which is inside the porch of the Causeway School, near Bushmills. This depicts the story of the Children of Lir and shows Finnoula in human form sheltering her swan brothers during their exile on the seas of Moyle. Located on the wall outside the entrance = is another beautiful bronze sculpture by Praeger of a small girl.

– The Bird Bath at Hillsborough Parish Church which marks the resting pace of the ashes of the conductor and composer Sir Hamilton Harty.

She also modelled figures for such diverse bodies as the Northern Bank, and the Carnegie Library on the Falls Road.

She was the younger sister of the internationally renown naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger and the National Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin Dublin has several pen and ink line drawings of flora by her.

Praeger was President of the Ulster Academy, and was awarded an honorary MA from Queen’s University in 1927, and twelve years later received an MBE. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Ulster Museum and the NGI.

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