King, Richard (1907–74), stained-glass artist and illustrator, was born 7 July 1907 in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, elder of two sons of John J. King, sergeant in the RIC, and Margaret King (née Brereton). He was educated by the De la Salle Brothers, Castlebar, and by the Christian Brothers in Westport, Co. Mayo, where his family moved (1922). He showed great talent in arts and crafts from an early age, and when the family relocated to Dublin (1926) he attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and there studied illustration and design under the tuition of Austin Molloy, a former assistant of Harry Clarke (qv). Hearing of his talents, Clarke took him into his firm, J. Clarke & Sons (1928), to learn the craft of stained glass. Inevitably Clarke was the dominant influence on his early work, but later his own style evolved, reflecting his interest in abstraction and cubism in modern Irish and continental art. He was particularly drawn to religious art and developed a thorough knowledge of Christian iconography. Harry Clarke died (1931) and King became studio manager (1935) but resigned (1940) in order to meet the demand of his own commissions, from his studio at 2 Vico Terrace, Dalkey, Co. Dublin. His friend and fellow student William J. Dowling (1907–80) took over as manager of Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd until its closure (1973). King was a keen angler and both he and Dowling went on regular fishing and sketching trips around Wicklow and spent holidays in the west of Ireland. Often they were accompanied by King's brother John and by his Dublin-born wife Alison, who later looked after their four children and ran the business side of the studio.
He received a prestigious commission extending over a number of years from the Irish government for the design of postage stamps. There were twelve in all and they reflected in style his work as a stained-glass artist. The first issue was for the Holy Year (1933), followed by a Gaelic Athletic Association Golden Jubilee commemorative stamp, showing a sketch of a hurler (1934). There was a stamp for St Patrick, his favourite saint (1937), and the same year a design commemorating the new constitution, showing a female figure (Ireland) inscribing the first words of the constitution. This was repeated for the twenty-first anniversary issue (1958). The Thomas Davis (qv) centenary design showed a young man sowing the seeds of freedom. Perhaps best known was the Four Masters design (1944), commemorating the tercentenary of the death of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh (qv), which was retained for use in the definitive series until 1969. The commemorative issues of Michael Davitt (qv) and Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) followed (1946). His four airmail designs of 1948–9 included depictions of national landmarks of the four provinces: Croagh Patrick, Lough Derg, the Rock of Cashel, and Glendalough. The last design (1949) was for the stamp on the centenary of the death of James Clarence Mangan (qv). His designs were simple and the symbolism clear, although the stamps often suffered from poor colour printing techniques, something beyond his control.
His first black-and-white illustrations were published in the Capuchin Annual (1940), the year he was made a member of staff. His subjects initially were of Celtic mythology and Irish folklore, in line with his reading interests. He enjoyed the poetry and prose of Patrick Pearse (qv) and admired the paintings of Jack B. Yeats (qv), with whom he was friendly. In later issues of the Annual, religious subjects dominated: for example, the colour series of Irish saints begun in the 1945–6 Annual and a colour supplement of his paintings, ‘The way of the Cross’ (produced especially for the Annual), were issued in 1952. He resigned in 1953. His black and white illustrations also appeared from 1936 in the Father Mathew Record and his work featured on the front cover of the August–September 1950 issue. He was also a designer of active service medals and designed the Bravery Medal (Comhairle na Mire Gaille).
Throughout his life King sought new ways to express his ideas in liturgical art and this he did in a range of media – stained glass, oils, and enamel. Examples can be found in churches in Ireland, England, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. In St Mary's church, Swinford, Co. Mayo, is a Stations of the Cross in oils, a three-light stained-glass window of the Assumption, and a rose window of the Holy Trinity (1952). An example of his work in vitreous enamel on copper, a great crucifix and a Stations of the Cross, can be found in the Church of the Holy Family, Holbrooks, Coventry. A most important commission was for a stained-glass wall (4 m x 18 m) comprising seven windows and Stations of the Cross for St Thomas More Jesuit chapel, University of West Australia. During the latter part of his career he read the scriptures and studied the works of Teilhard de Chardin, and a fine example of his late abstract work is at Nazareth House, Malahide Road, Dublin. He received the commission (1969) through Frank Ryan of Abbey Stained Glass Studios, and the studios made the windows according to King's designs. A typed explanation of the symbolism that was used suggests the artist chose the themes himself, perhaps with some consultation in the early stages. The windows are seen to mark the high point in his career and ‘testify to the level of inspiration and originality of interpretation in his late work’ (Sheehy, 276). His last window in Ireland was for St Patrick's church, Newport, Co. Mayo (1973). Perhaps his only non-religious stained glass is the Kevin Barry (qv) memorial window for UCD, Dublin.
King exhibited just twice with the RHA (1945, 1949) and was a member of the Irish Society of Design and Craftwork. He entered work more regularly in the Oireachtas Art Exhibition, showing for the first time in 1932 and then from 1944 to 1946. His subjects were mainly religious and his last entry (1955) was a ‘Pieta’. He held a one-man exhibition at the Victor Waddington galleries, Dublin (1948). He died on 17 March (St Patrick's day) 1974 at his residence on the Howth Road, Raheny, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. A measure of his popularity was the large number of tributes paid to him in the Capuchin Annual, 1975, along with a comprehensive list of his work.