by Karla Whitmore
Alexander Gascoyne ran an ‘Ecclesiastical artist’s business’ established by his father George Frederick in Nottingham, England. Born in 1877 he became well known as a designer of stained glass and has numerous windows in English churches. He was a member of the British Society of Master Glass Painters and exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Figure 1: Advertisement placed in Catholic Press, 30 July 1925, p. 32. Later the same year, the advertisement offered personal appointments with Gascoyne.
In 1925, Gascoyne visited Australia, the visit being announced by advertisements in the press two months before his arrival. The advertisement was placed by James Moroney, a New Zealand-born Sydney based designer of art nouveau leadlight windows. The Caroline Simpson Library at Sydney Living Museums has a number of his designs. Gascoyne designed both ecclesiastical and art nouveau windows and examples can be seen online.1
A few years after federation imported stained glass windows for churches and public buildings were to be free of duty as works of art whereas glass, such as from Belgium, was subject to duty. After hearing from the industry and debating the subject the government in 1908 imposed a tariff of 20% on imported stained glass. According to a report on the glass industry in Britain at this time English stained glass was facing price competition from Europe and America in exporting to overseas clients. These conditions provided an opportunity as Gascoyne reportedly planned on setting up a studio in Sydney, probably bringing out skilled craftsmen and employing local assistants.2 He was reported as having visited Sydney in 1926, the year before his early death. It is interesting to think of the ecclesiastical and elegant art nouveau windows that would have been created had been able to set up a studio in Sydney.
Figure 2: Alexander Gascoyne (designer)/ John Hardman & Company, Birmingham (maker), Scenes from the Life of the Blessed Virgin, 1925-28, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Catholic Church, Randwick, NSW. Photograph: Karla Whitmore
One of his designs can be seen in a church at Randwick where James Moroney’s studio was located. Gascoyne reportedly designed the altar window while in Sydney and Moroney probably installed it. The 5-light east window is based on Gascoyne’s design and made by the Birmingham based studio with an international clientele, John Hardman & Co.3 The window cost over £2000. In an unusual commissioning process Gascoyne’s design was bought and made by Hardman for less than the price quoted by Gascoyne. John T. Hardman who ran the firm at the time was a friend of Gascoyne.
The window has a trefoil cusped central light, four cusped lights and sextfoil and quatrefoil tracery. Our Lady holds the infant Jesus in the central light with saints and angels arranged in a semi-circle around her in the adjacent lights and biblical scenes including the Nativity and Crucifixion. Other figures are in horizontal bands beneath architectural canopies in Gothic Revival style. The window is notable for its rich colouring of ultramarine, scarlet and gold. The Catholic Press at the time enthusiastically described the window as ‘a credit to the British glassmakers of to-day, and compares favourably with the ancient art of colouring’4. The richly detailed appearance accords with the original design intent which was for the window to be instructional as well as beautiful.
Figure 3: Alexander Gascoyne (designer)/ John Hardman & Company, Birmingham (maker), detail from Scenes from the Life of the Blessed Virgin, 1925-28, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Catholic Church, Randwick, NSW. Photograph: Karla Whitmore
1 A Gascoyne art nouveau design is on http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/art/stainedglass/ .
2 ‘Stained Glass Production in Australia’, The Argus (Melbourne), 4 September 1925, p. 16.
3 ‘Glassmakers’Art, Fine Work by British Firm’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1928, p. 7.
4 ‘Magnificent Stained Glass Window’, Catholic Press, 21 June 1928, p. 27.