Gaze at Coventry Cathedral’s stunning Baptistry window or up into the lantern crown of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King and your spirits soar at the sight of such magnificent stained glass. The artists behind these sublime creations – the late John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens (now 90) – worked together for more than 35 years, and today their work in this magically thrilling medium can be found on permanent display at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
Equally inspiring are Reyntiens’ solo commissions, which range from the Great Hall at Christ Church in Oxford to the National Cathedral in Washington DC, as well as numerous parish churches throughout Britain, including the Henry Moore Memorial window at St Andrew’s in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. Reyntiens is widely regarded as Britain’s foremost stained-glass artist and his work has influenced a generation of contemporary glass artists, including Danny Lane and Ray King. Less well-known, however, are his personal projects. Free from clients’ briefs, these are often highly exuberant – and are available to buy and enjoy in one’s own home.
I first met Reyntiens as a teenager in 1968, when I attended an art course at Burleighfield House, the Buckinghamshire home he ran as a small, yet significant, arts educational centre with his late wife, the painter Anne Bruce, and have ever since been captivated by his work. In the late-1980s he created several non-commissioned series of stained-glass panels inspired by themes such as Greek mythology and commedia dell’arte. Their domestic scale (less than 70cm wide in some cases) allows them to be enjoyed as freestanding artworks or fitted into a window in a private residence, and a number of them are available to buy from Reyntiens directly for between £4,000 and £50,000.
What unites these unique works is a painterly approach pulsating with movement and colour. There are energetic acrobats, tumbling clowns and a fat ringmaster in the Circus series (example in second picture); dramatic thespians in the commedia dell’arte panels (including a vignette of Kenneth Branagh); and muscular, athletic figures, along with a fierce-looking Nemean lion, in The Labours of Hercules. Circular homages, designed in the style of 18th-century flower paintings, sing with joyous colour and are dedicated to individual composers – Weber, Tartini, Fauré, Brahms and Berlioz. Nor is Reyntiens’ work without humour: two vertical panels, each with six individual portraits, capture The Triumph of Dame Edna (third picture), complete with overblown coiffure, pearls and spectacles.
More intimate, though, are the mini-windows (£395 to £895) – small, single panels measuring around 30cm x 35cm – commissioned between 2009 and 2011 by Goldmark, a Midlands-based gallery specialising in 20th-century and contemporary painting, prints, ceramics and sculpture. Made from handblown antique glass, selected and delicately handpainted by Reyntiens, each tells its own story, with the artist’s rich, private personality peeking through enchanting, dreamlike scenes of rural landscapes, deserts, roaring seas and mythological figures. The imaginative visual riffs in pieces such as Oh! The Tsunami (£495, first picture) and Somewhere in Arizona? (£595, fourth picture) are subtly partitioned by rhythmic lead-work and encircled by cloud-shaped frames, making them look like colourful, little thought-bubbles.
These poetic panels were constructed at Reyntiens Glass Studio by Patrick’s youngest son, John, who is an acclaimed stained-glass artist in his own right (his window at Westminster Hall, commissioned by the Houses of Parliament for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee gift, was installed in 2013, and he also contributed to Windsor Castle’s late-1990s post-fire restoration). In addition to solo work, John collaborates with his father to create distinctive windows as, amazingly, Patrick still accepts bespoke commissions for private homes, schools, churches and public buildings internationally.
Naturally, I was unable to resist buying a small panel from Goldmark. It’s called Oh! What a Dream! and hangs in my bedroom window where the blue and green glass is glowingly backlit. Every time it catches my eye it makes me smile.