Patrick Reyntiens, who died at the age of 95, held a unique place in the history of British stained glass. The recognition of his genius as a creator in this medium has been complicated by his almost invisible status in modern art history and by the fact that some of Reyntiens’ best work has been produced in creative collaboration with others. artists.
The period immediately after World War II saw a renaissance of stained glass, following the seeming uselessness of the genre in the 1930s. The multiplicity of ecclesiastical commissions, primarily funded by the government’s War Damages Commission, shaped the lives of the young Reyntians, whose remarkable partnership with artist John Piper has given birth to some of the most beautiful modern glasses in the British Isles.
Complete trust allowed Piper and Reyntiens to work together on the enormous challenge of the monumental baptistery window of the New Coventry Cathedral which rose from the bombed-out ruins in the 1950s. Both men were impressed by the view. abstract expressionist section of the 1956 show Modern art in the United States at the Tate Gallery. Piper recognized Reyntiens’ creative intelligence: âHe took contemporary painting – and that meant Pollock and Guston – as his immediate influence, my cartoon as his model of operation and what he had learned about stained glass as its means of action. It was Reyntiens who pushed Coventry’s designs in the direction of pure abstraction, a Bernini-inspired “explosion” of color that would overcome the limitations of the stone mullions that shattered Piper’s 198-light design.
Confidence was also needed when the couple embarked on an order for the lantern tower of Frederick Gibberd’s Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool, built in the mid-1960s. The Reyntiens team worked at high speed in using the then popular technique of the glass slab, in which the glass is set in structural mortar. Reyntiens ‘reading of the last stanzas of Dante’s Paradise led Piper to conceive of the Trinity in bursts of blue, yellow, and red light, even more abstracted by the strategic configuration of Reyntiens’ glazing bars.
Reyntiens and Piper first met around 1952 when Reyntiens, a recent Edinburgh School of Art graduate, was apprenticing with JE Nuttgens, a former student of Arts and Crafts stained glass artist Christopher Whall. While working for Nuttgens, Reyntiens’ delicate repair of a JF Bentley window in the church in Wantage, Oxfordshire, impressed the poet John Betjeman and his wife, Penelope, who were passionate about Victorian architecture.
The Betjemans brought together Reyntiens and Piper, Reyntiens initially translating a Piper gouache of two heads in a stained glass panel, leading to the first of their many collaborations, for the Oundle School Chapel in Northamptonshire. Inspired by Picasso and the monumental figures of saints in the chiaroscuro of Bourges cathedral, the three stained glass windows, nine lights in all, each showed a different aspect of a figure of the crowned Christ.
Hieratic and powerful, Reyntiens’ interpretation of Piper’s designs – using flashed, painted, etched, and laminated glass – combined artistry and technical flair, and led to a commission for the war-damaged Eton College Chapel, where eight windows represented semi-abstract miracles and parables. Reyntiens’ training as a painter helped him source intensely colored glass in Germany and France.
Reyntiens was generous about the co-author even though, eventually, after several decades, he stopped working with Piper, unable to cope with her tight budgets.
He maintains that it was only recently that the artist took on the role of initiator or solitary prophet: âUntil the 18th century, artists were priests; they reprocess data that society puts at their feet and clothes them with aesthetic wonder. Even someone as original as Michelangelo was reprocessing very old facts, very old data. For Reyntiens, stained glass was a priestly occupation, not a prophetic one, and he also worked in collaboration with artists Cecil Collins and Ceri Richards.
His own glass – large and small – always reflected developments in modern painting, from his Braque-inspired Still Life panel, shown in British Artist Craftsmen at the Smithsonian in Washington in 1959-60, to his return to the 1980s figurative work inspired by a whole range of resonant visual and literary sources, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Commedia dell’arte, to satellite dishes clustered over the buildings and beauties of the Jurassic Coast.
In the stained glass windows of Saint Cecilia and Saint Hubert (1979) in Saint Mark’s Chapel at Sledmere House, Yorkshire, we see Reyntiens in his most playful and literary aspect. Where appropriate, he could avoid originality, as with his window for the Great Hall of Christ Church, Oxford (1985), which humorously employed the language of 19th century glass.
Reyntiens held strong views on education, stating: âEducation is not the transportation of a commodity. Â»Him and his wife, the painter Anne Bruce, ran an arts trust from 1963 to 1979 in Burleighfield, near High Wycombe, with his large studio originally used for the Liverpool Metropolitan Commission. Burleighfield functioned as an innovative exhibition gallery, temporary sculpture park and alternative art school, with workshops in painting, stained glass, tapestry, printmaking and ceramics, and a commitment to educating adults and local children, as well as international students.
Its closure by unfriendly administrators was traumatic, even though Reyntiens was then Director of Fine Arts at Central School, London (1976-86), leading his department with an eye for laughter and encouragement, campaigning for the continuing the design of life, and retaining the services of the visionary Collins until well after his retirement date.
Reyntiens was born into a Roman Catholic family in London, the son of Serge Reyntiens, a British diplomat of Russian-Belgian descent, and his Scottish wife, Janet (nÃ©e MacRea). Patrick grew up in Brussels, mostly in the care of a loving nanny who read Dickens to him.
He was educated at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire, served in the Scots Guards (1943-47) and attended the St Marylebone School of Art (1947-50) and the Edinburgh College of Art (1950-51). In 1953 he married Anne, and for the next two years the couple traveled on scholarship across France, studying medieval and contemporary glass.
A radical who has always voted conservative, Reyntiens’ book The Techniques of Stained Glass (1967) was cited in the counter-cultural Whole Earth Catalog. Its sequel, The Beauty of Stained Glass (1990) is an excellent little guide to glass from the 12th century. The book was generous to young practitioners, and this generosity was manifested in practice.
In 2009, Reyntiens collaborated with glass artist Graham Jones on a window at St Martin’s Church in Cochem, Germany, and in 2003-07 he created a 35-window sequence for Ampleforth Abbey with his son John. His last commissioned work of art was a panel for American glass artist Dale Chihuly, completed at the age of 92.
Reyntiens’ experiences summed up the difficulties encountered by a stained glass artist in the 20th and 21st centuries, and made him a sympathetic art critic for the Tablet and the Catholic Herald throughout the 1980s and beyond. He has served on advisory boards for Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and Brompton Oratory. In 1976, he was named OBE.
A lengthy biographical interview for the British Library’s National Life Stories captured his self-deprecating, dragging speech and restless intelligence. Boiling, literate, a fine cook, passionate dancer and fervent Roman Catholic who firmly believed in angels, he was a master of poetic insight.
Anne died in 2006. He is survived by their children, Edith, Dominick, Lucy and John, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Three grandchildren died before him.