Creativity is intelligence having fun. Albert Einstein

The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe

Book Review

Adrian Barlow: Kempe: The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe, Lutterworth Press 2018

by Jonathan Evens

The legacy and reputation of many significant Victorians is complex and contradictory because their often great achievements were fashioned on the oppression of Empire and the superiority and arrogance which fuelled aggressive expansion presenting exploitation of others and their natural resources as being the introduction of civilisation. 

Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians published in May 1918, several months before the armistice, was symptomatic of ‘a public mood of rejection of those who had in some way contributed to a national catastrophe’ - the First World War. Strachey’s book has come to be viewed as ‘an assault on the Victorian establishment from which Strachey, the son of a general, had sprung’ with four brief lives – Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Gordon – illustrating ‘the psychology of four neurotic careerists who typified a society tormented by sex and religion.’[i]

The reputations of all the great Victorian figures were affected by the general rejection of the era, of which Strachey’s book was one of the earliest and most prominent examples. The reputation of Charles Eamer Kempe, whilst he may not have been in the first rank of great Victorians, was similarly affected by this societal change of attitude. Adrian Barlow writes that, despite an effective and planned transition from Kempe Studios to C.E. Kempe & Co following Kempe’s death in 1907, the ‘post-war years brought a small flurry of war-memorial commissions, but the diminishing returns of the 1920s led first to the necessity of selling Old Place [Kempe’s home and one of his masterpieces] and finally to the closing of the firm in in 1934.’

Our inability to separate individual Victorians and their achievements from the often unacknowledged contradictions of the era which gave them birth, informs every page of Barlow’s informed and informative biography. As a Trustee of The Kempe Society, Barlow is as knowledgeable a biographer as could be expected but his understanding of the era and its subsequent reputation also mean that he is able to be an effective assessor of Kempe’s achievement.

St Peter's Church, Cowfold, West Sussex

I first encountered Kempe at St John’s Seven Kings, my first incumbency, where we had a window made by C.E. Kempe & Co. People in the parish knew that Kempe windows were of significance and knew that theirs was a later design because the Kempe family emblem, the wheatsheaf, had a tower superimposed; the mark that the firm used after Kempe’s death. Despite their knowledge of these elements of the Kempe story, in a major reordering of the entire building, the Lady Chapel, for which the Kempe window had been the focal point, had become a meeting room with storage cupboards below the window where an altar once had stood. The changed use of the space affected one’s ability to view the window as originally intended. Despite this the quality and interest of this window was still apparent contrasting positively, as it did, with less inspired glass from the Whitefriars Studio in the other windows of the same room. This change, however, seems symptomatic of Kempe’s reputation in the post-Victorian period; of sufficient significance to be retained in the reordering, but not of such significance that it cannot be somewhat obscured within that same reordering.   

Kempe’s inspiration was formed, as with that of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement initiated by Willam Morris, by the Gothic Revival. Barlow clearly identifies the differences in inspiration that existed between these different movements, with Kempe’s inspiration being primarily found in Northern European churches and cathedrals of the 15th and early 16th centuries. Barlow is of equal help when assessing the respective contributions and differing emphases of the essentially anonymous artists who worked in Kempe’s studio. Barlow carefully teases out the distinctions of the differing contributions made by Kempe himself and his artists – Wyndham Hope Hughes, John Carter and John William Lisle – as well as the differences in individual styles within the overarching Kempe style.

Kempe’s is a fascinating story of a self-made man in tune with his own era who built a brand able to endure for sixty years. In common with A.W.N. Pugin, William Morris and G.F. Watts, he also created a home which fully expressed his personal inspiration and vision and was considered a masterpiece in its day. In one volume Barlow tells Kempe’s story and that of his collaborators, assesses key works and considers Kempe’s legacy and reputation. He brings Kempe’s faith-full practice to life while arguing for the ongoing significance of work based on an unchanging belief that past styles of faith were the best expression for contemporary faith.

St. Mary Magdalene, Hucknall

Through Barlow’s explanatory prose and psychological profiling we appreciate and understand Kempe’s motivations and the reception given to the work of his studio. As Barlow unpacks and critiques later criticisms of the works from Kempe’s studio, it is probable that many will nevertheless retain the sense that there was little evolution in the style of glass produced by the studio and that their preferred style reflected Victorian conceptions of beauty. All of which seems to suggest that Kempe is, while being a deeply interesting character, a typically Victorian figure; someone bound by his era, rather than transcending it. Yet there are also many surprises within the tale told, including, in 1887, his plan to remove the pews from his local church and replace these with modern pews or individual chairs.  

This book adds greatly to our knowledge and understanding of Kempe’s studio and achievements. These are revealed as being much broader than simply his reputation for stained glass and also as synergous to and analogous to the work of Morris & Co. The significance and spirituality of the work is made clear in ways which counteract the stereotype that developed of mass production of a static style. Barlow also develops our understanding of this era, its tastes and innovations, through the portrait he draws of a man who exemplified both. This book is invaluable for the way in which it adds significantly to our understanding of the man, the studio, the works and the era. It should be of particular interest to the many churches which, like St John’s Seven Kings, are fortunate to possess a Kempe.   


Jonathan Evens is Associate Vicar, Partnership Development at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, England. A keen blogger, he posts regularly on issues of faith and culture at His journalism and art criticism ranges from Pugin to U2 and has appeared in a range of publications, including Artlyst and Church Times. He runs a visual arts organisation called commission4mission, which encourages churches to commission contemporary art and, together with the artist Henry Shelton, has published two collections of meditations and images on Christ's Passion. Together with the musician Peter Banks, he has published a book on faith and music entitled ‘The Secret Chord’.      


15 February 2020 / Imagination at Play

by Marianne Lettieri

To deny ourselves time to laugh, be with family and friends, and fuel our passions, we get caught in what Cameron calls the “treadmill of virtuous production.”


07 December 2019 / ArtWay Newsletter 2019

An update by our editor-in-chief 
the ArtWay List of Books 2019


16 November 2019 / Scottish Miracles and Parables Exhibition

Alan Wilson: "Can there be a renewal of Christian tradition in Scottish art, where ambitious artists create from a heartfelt faith, committed to their Lord and saviour as well as their craft?"


23 September 2019 / Dal Schindell Tribute

While Dal’s ads and sense of humour became the stuff of legends, it was his influence on the arts at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada that may be his biggest legacy. 


04 September 2019 / The Aesthetics of John Calvin

Calvin stated that 'the faithful see sparks of God's glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing. The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of divine glory.'


31 July 2019 / The Legend of the Artist

by Beat Rink

The image of the 'divine' artist becomes so dominant that artists take their orientation from it and lead their lives accordingly.


02 July 2019 / Quotes by Tim Keller

Many “Christian art” productions are in reality just ways of pulling artists out of the world and into the Christian subculture.


08 June 2019 / The Chaiya Art Awards

by Jonathan Evens

The Chaiya Art Awards 2018 proved hugely popular, with over 450 entries and more than 2,700 exhibition visitors.


29 May 2019 / Art Stations of the Cross: Reflections

by Lieke Wynia

In its engagement with both Biblical and contemporary forms of suffering, the exhibition addressed complex topical issues without losing a sense of hope out of sight.


03 May 2019 / Marianne Lettieri: Relics Reborn

Items that show the patina of time and reveal the wear and tear of human interaction are carriers of personal and collective history. 


27 April 2019 / Franciscan and Dominican Arts of Devotion

by John Skillen 

This manner of prayer stirs up devotion, the soul stirring the body, and the body stirring the soul.


13 March 2019 / Makoto Fujimura and the Culture Care Movement

by Victoria Emily Jones

Culture care is a generative approach to culture that brings bouquets of flowers into a culture bereft of beauty.


08 January 2019 / Building a Portfolio of People

by Marianne Lettieri

Besides hard work in the studio, networking may be the single most important skill for a sustainable art practice.


01 December 2018 / ArtWay Newsletter December 2018

ArtWay has Special Plans for 2019!

After London, Washington D.C. and New York the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is now the anticipated location for a prominent art exhibition with the title Art Stations of the Cross.


13 September 2018 / A Visit to the Studio of Georges Rouault

by Jim Alimena

Everything we saw and learned reinforced my picture of a great man of faith and a great artist. 


09 August 2018 / With Opened Eyes: Representational Art

by Ydi Coetsee

How do we respond to the ‘lost innocence’ of representational art? 


13 July 2018 / True Spirituality in the Arts

by Edith Reitsema

Living in Christ should lead us away from living with a segregated view of life, having a sacred-secular split. 


17 May 2018 / Beholding Christ in African American Art

Book review by Victoria Emily Jones

One of the hallmarks of Beholding Christ is the diversity of styles, media, and denominational affiliations represented.


23 April 2018 / Short Introduction to Hans Rookmaaker

by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker

On the occasion of the establishment of the Rookmaaker Jazz Scholarship at Covenant College, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 12 March 2018


04 April 2018 / International Art Residency in India

Art for Change, a New Delhi based arts organization with a vision to see art shape society with beauty and truth, will be running its 6th annual International Artist Residency in November 2018.


15 March 2018 / The Stations of the Cross at Blackburn Cathedral

by Penny Warden  

Perhaps the central challenge for the artist in imaging the body of Christ is the problem of representing the dual natures of the doctrine of the incarnation.


23 February 2018 / Between the Shadow and the Light

By Rachel Hostetter Smith

In June 2013 a group of twenty North American and African artists from six African countries met for two weeks of intensive engagement with South Africa.


30 January 2018 / Sacred Geometry in Christian Art

by Sophie Hacker

This blog unravels aspects of sacred geometry and how it has inspired art and architecture for millennia. 


01 January 2018 / Jonathan Evens writes about Central Saint Martins

Why would Central Saint Martins, a world-famous arts and design college and part of University of the Arts London, choose to show work by its graduates in a church?


06 December 2017 / ArtWay Newsletter December, 2017

ArtWay's Chairman Wim Eikelboom: "The visual arts cultivate a fresh and renewed view of deeply entrenched values. That is why ArtWay is happy to provide an online platform for art old and new."


14 November 2017 / The Moral Imagination: Art and Peacebuilding

In the context of conflict transformation the key purpose of creative expression is to provide a venue for people to tell their stories, and for their stories to be heard.


24 October 2017 / Bruce Herman: Ut pictura poesis?

For the last couple hundred of years the arts have largely been in "experimentation mode"—moving away from the humble business of craft and service toward ideas, issues, and theory.


04 October 2017 / David Jeffrey: Art and Understanding Scripture

The purpose of In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture is to help deepen the reader’s understanding of the magnificence of the Bible as a source for European art.


08 September 2017 / David Taylor: The Aesthetics of John Calvin

Calvin stated that 'the faithful see sparks of God's glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing. The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of divine glory.'


23 August 2017 / ​Reconstructed by Anikó Ouweneel

A much talked-about exposition in the NoordBrabants Museum in The Netherlands showed works by modern and contemporary Dutch artists inspired by traditional Catholic statues of Christ and the saints. 


04 July 2017 / Pilgrimage to Venice – The Venice Biennale 2017

When I start to look at the art works, I notice a strange rift between this pleasant environment and the angst and political engagement present in the works of the artists. 


24 June 2017 / Collecting as a Calling

After many years of compiling a collection of religious art, I have come to realize that collecting is a calling. I feel strongly that our collection has real value and that it is a valuable ministry. 


02 June 2017 / I Believe in Contemporary Art

By Alastair Gordon

In recent years there has been a growing interest in questions of religion in contemporary art. Is it just a passing fad or signs of renewed faith in art? 


04 April 2017 / Stations of the Cross - Washington, DC 2017

by Aaron Rosen

We realized that the Stations needed to speak to the acute anxiety facing so many minorities in today’s America and beyond. 


07 March 2017 / Socially Engaged Art

A discussion starter by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin

Growing dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch, elite and market driven art world has led artists to turn to socially engaged art. 


01 February 2017 / Theodore Prescott: Inside Sagrada Familia

The columns resemble the trunks of trees. Gaudi conceived of the whole interior as a forest, where the nave ceiling would invoke the image of an arboreal canopy.


03 January 2017 / Steve Scott tells about his trips to Bali

In the Balinese shadow play the puppet master pulls from a repertoire of traditional tales and retells them with an emphasis on contemporary moral and spiritual lessons. 


09 December 2016 / Newsletter ArtWay December 2016

Like an imitation of a good thing past, these days of darkness surely will not last. Jesus was here and he is coming again, to lead us to the festival of friends.


01 November 2016 / LAbri for Beginners

What is the role of the Christian artist? Is it not to ‘re-transcendentalise’ the transcendent, to discern what is good in culture, and to subvert what is not with a prophetic voice?


30 September 2016 / Book Review by Jonathan Evens

Jonathan Koestlé-Cate, Art and the Church: A Fractious Embrace - Ecclesiastical Encounters with Contemporary Art, Routledge, 2016.


01 September 2016 / Review: Modern art and the life of a culture

The authors say they want to help the Christian community recognize the issues raised in modern art and to do so in ways that are charitable and irenic. But I did not find them so. Their representation of Rookmaaker seems uncharitable and at times even misleading. 


29 July 2016 / Victoria Emily Jones on Disciplining our Eyes

There’s nothing inherently wrong with images—creating or consuming. In fact, we need them. But we also need to beware of the propensity they have to plant themselves firmly in our minds. 


30 June 2016 / Aniko Ouweneel on What is Christian Art?

Pekka Hannula challenges the spectator to search for the source of the breath we breathe, the source of what makes life worth living, the source of our longing for the victory of redemptive harmony.


09 June 2016 / Theodore Prescott: The Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia is a visual encyclopedia of Christian narrative and Catholic doctrine as Gaudi sought to embody the faith through images, symbols, and expressive forms.


19 May 2016 / Edward Knippers: Do Clothes make the Man?

Since the body is the one common denominator for all of humankind, why do we fear to uncover it? Why is public nudity a shock or even a personal affront?


27 April 2016 / Alexandra Harper: Culture Care

Culture Care is an invitation to create space within the local church to invest our talents, time and tithes in works that lean into the Kingdom of God as creative agents of shalom. 


06 April 2016 / Jonathan Evens on Contemporary Commissions

The issue of commissioning secular artists versus artists of faith represents false division and unnecessary debate. The reality is that both have resulted in successes and failures.


12 March 2016 / Betty Spackman: Creativity and Depression

When our whole being is wired to fly outside the box, life can become a very big challenge. To carve oneself into a square peg for the square holes of society, when you are a round peg, is painful to say the least.


24 February 2016 / Jim Watkins: Augustine and the Senses

Augustine is not saying that sensual pleasure is bad, but that it is a mixed good. As his Confessions so clearly show, Augustine is painfully aware of how easily he can take something good and turn it into something bad. 


11 February 2016 / H.R. Rookmaaker: Does Art Need Justification?

Art is not a religion, nor an activity relegated to a chosen few, nor a mere worldly, superfluous affair. None of these views of art does justice to the creativity with which God has endowed man.


26 January 2016 / Ned Bustard: The Bible is Not Safe

Revealed is intended to provoke surprise, even shock. It shows that the Bible is a book about ordinary people, who are not only spiritual beings, but also greedy, needy, hateful, hopeful, selfish, and sexual.


14 January 2016 / Painting by Nanias Maira from Papua New Guinea

In 2011 Wycliffe missionary Peter Brook commissioned artist Nanias Maira, who belongs to the Kwoma people group of northwestern Papua New Guinea, to paint Bible stories in the traditional style for which he is locally known.