Shields met at Gabriel Rossetti's, in the late seventies, the Cowper-Temples. With them was Mrs. Russell Gurney, whose husband, the Recorder of London, had just died; his portrait, by Watts, is in the National Gallery. This group was highly intellectual and evangelically spiritual. It just suited Shields, and to Mrs. Russell Gurney he was in a real sense a godsend. This finely-natured lady wished to use her considerable means in a beneficially religious manner. Shields was just the man to help. He had done a fine series of designs for glass for Sir William Holdsworth's church at Reddish, near Manchester, and later a series for glass and mosaic for the Duke of Westminster's chapel at Eaton Hall, near Chester. The first series illustrated the passages about faith in St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, and the second a larger theme, the Te Deum. If the charge of overfulness in ideas of symbolic crowding could be dismissed, both these series must be classed as among the most remarkable works of their kind of our period. They are full of noble designs, with a spiritual intensity which is all too rare in such work in our day.

Mrs. Gurney, after great effort, got possession of the chapel at the burial-ground belonging to St. George's, Hanover Square, in the Bayswater Road. It had long been disused, the graveyard being full. The old building was pulled down, and a new one erected, under Shields' guidance, by Mr. Herbert P. Home. Then came the great task of decorating with pictorial subjects the carefully prepared interior. The idea was an original one. The scheme of salvation was to be shown from the biblical source alone, the old masters having been, in our friend's view, in the chains of paganism throughout the whole period of their work under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Much as our artist admired the greatest of the workers of the past, he was certain they had been spiritually blinded by this baneful pagan tradition. All must be begun afresh.

After twenty years of hard and glorious labour the result can best be studied only at the Chapel of the Ascension in the Bayswater Road, not far from the Marble Arch, and fronting to Hyde Park. There is a book of explanatory notes by the painter, and the visitor needs such a guide. To get full value out of this truly remarkable achievement, Mr. Shields' book should be read on the spot, and the works studied from the point of view of their creator. [83-88]

References

Rowley, Charles. Fifty Years of Work without Wages. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911. University of California at Los Angeles copy made available online by Internet Archive. Web. 9 November 2012.


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