The Kempe Glass

Kempe’s distinctive style of stained glass reached the peak of popularity in the late 19th century but for some years has had scant appreciation from modern critics. In recent years the surge of interest in Victorian buildings has raised the profile of this exceptionally talented craftsman. Charles Eamer Kempe was born on 29th June 1837 near Brighton and was brought up by a devout mother at the time of the Tractarian revival in the Church of England. He studied the art of stained glass at the studios of Clayton & Bell and set up his own studio in London in 1866. This gave Kempe the opportunity to express his Christian message through his art.From 1885 his studios used the wheatsheaf, taken from the family’s coat of arms, as a sign of his work.

Kempe visited St George’s in October 1906 and outlined a scheme for the glazing of the windows. His plan was inspired by his intimate knowledge of the work of the best medieval artists, with the windows of the apse expressing the glory of the Incarnation and those of the south aisle depicting Christ’s appearances after his resurrection. Unfortunately Kempe died before his grand plan could be executed and it was left to Walter Tower, Kempe’s cousin and legatee to complete and install Kempe’s finished designs.  

After Kempe’s death on the 29th April 1907 he was buried in the family tomb in the churchyard of St Wulfran at Ovingdean, Sussex. The influence of his exceptional style of artistry remained long after his death.

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