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Obituary: Patrick Reyntiens

by
17 December 2021

Kenneth Shenton writes:

PATRICK REYNTIENS acquired an unrivalled international reputation for his artistic endeavours. He rep­­resented at its most dynamic that immediate post-war generation of craftsmen who throughout the second half of the last century achieved so much in transporting stained glass dramatically into the modern age.

He brought the eye of a modernist painter to a medium that had hitherto been dominated by line rather than colour and light.

His partnership, particularly with the artist John Piper, resulted in numerous ecclesiastical commissions. Perhaps the best known are the baptistery window in Coventry Cathedral and the lantern tower of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, at that time the biggest commission for stained glass ever undertaken.

Born in December 1925, of Rus­sian and Flemish descent, Nicholas Patrick Reyntiens was educated at Ampleforth College. He enlisted in the Scots Guards in 1943, and later served in Germany, becoming Churchill’s escort for the 1945 Potsdam Conference. He studied at Regent Street Polytechnic, and then moved to Edinburgh College of Art.

While there, his model for life classes was a former milkman and a future James Bond, Sean Connery. Reyntiens always came to regret not keeping any of those early drawings.

Having won the Andrew Grant Fellowship in 1954, he entered the world of stained glass quite by chance, initially earning £3 a week at the studio of the renowned Edward Nuttgens, who needed an assistant, and who happened to be the father of a college friend. Notable among Reyntiens’s early work was the use of Dalle-de-verre glass in St Mary’s, Leyland, in Lancashire.

Having impressed John Betjeman when repairing one of the windows in Wantage Parish Church, the 27-­year-old Reyntiens was first brought together with Piper by the poet. Reyntiens regularly became the artist’s collaborator, interpreter, and co-designer. Their long creative part­nership began with a new east window for the chapel of Oundle School.

The architect Basil Spence then sought their input for his new cathedral in Coventry. The result, the baptistery window, remains one of their most colourful and iconic creations, a huge curtain of colour effortlessly running down one side of the building. Completed in May 1962, after four years’ work, the 85-foot-high and 52-foot-wide win­dow comprises five tons of English glass. Reyntiens painted each of the 195 panes individually, using brushes and sticks to create the fluidity and feel that Piper so desired.

The pair moved north to take on an even more daunting and ambi­tious project, helping the architect Sir Frederick Gibberd bring to fruition his vision for a new Roman Catholic cathedral for the city of Liverpool. Built above the Lutyens crypt, this centrally planned church, 194 feet in diameter, was designed to accommodate 3000 worshippers, all within 70 feet of the central sanc­tuary. The construction of their central tower lantern posed par­ticular logistical problems. Con­tain­ing 12,000 square feet of red, blue, and yellow glass, and weighing 70 tons, it was initially constructed at Reyntiens’s Buckinghamshire home before eventually being heli­coptered into position.

Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire, made with Keith Barley 1996

Further collaborations with Piper, some 45 in total, included an ex­­tension and new east window in St Woolos’ Cathedral, Newport; Eton College Chapel; St Andrew’s, Ply­mouth; St Margaret’s, Westminster; and both Robinson and Churchill Colleges in Cambridge. Shooting stars and fireworks illumi­nated their only secular com­mission for the ex­­tensive stairwell of Sanderson House in Berners Street, London.

Reyntiens worked with Ceri Richards at Derby Cathedral, return­ing to Liverpool RC Cathedral to work on its Blessed Sacrament chapel. In his own right, he also completed the glazing of the great hall of Christ Church, Oxford, cre­ated new windows for Wash­­ington National Cathed­ral, and decorated the huge new west window of South­well Minster.

He married a fellow artist, Anne Bruce. in 1953, and they and their four children settled in a large Victorian house with extensive grounds, Burleighfield, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. There, during the 1960s, they founded an international arts school, the first of its kind in this country. With work­shops for stained glass, tapestry, design, printing, printmaking, and ceramics, it quickly attracted stu­dents from all around the world. There were also innovative courses for mothers with babies and young children. Sadly, as Reyntiens was never overly concerned about busi­ness matters, it eventually ran into finan­cial difficulties and had to close. The family later settled in Somerset. For ten years, from 1976, Reyntiens was head of fine art at the Central School of Art and Design.

Reyntiens also proved himself a fine writer, regularly contributing finely written and knowledgeable critiques on both art and cuisine to a range of journals and periodicals including The Oldie, The Tablet, and the Catholic Herald. He was also an occasional contributor to The Inde­pendent. In 1970, he distilled his extensive knowledge and experience into what has become a seminal text, The Technique of Stained Glass. No less impressive was a later volume, The Beauty of Stained Glass.

He was appointed OBE in 1976, served on the advisory committee of Westminster Abbey, and was a visiting professor at Pilchuck School of Art in Washington State. He later became a keynote speaker at exhibi­tions, seminars, and master classes worldwide.

In 2009, almost half a century after he had begun work on that symbolic landmark of Britain’s post-war reconstruction, Coventry Ca­­thedral, Reyntiens found himself in Germany installing eight new win­dows for St Michael’s, Cochem, which, too, had been destroyed in the conflict. He col­laborated with the glass artist Graham Jones, and, at the age of 84, painted each of the figures in the 40-foot-high, five-feet wide win­dows.

By then, alongside his son John, he had also completed a sequence of 35 windows for his Alma Mater, St Laurence’s Abbey Church at Ample­f­­­orth.

His last commissioned work was a panel for his old friend, the renowned American glass artist Dale Chihuly, completed in 2017, when he was 92.

Patrick Reyntiens’s career had been sustained by his deep faith. He died on 25 October, aged 95. His wife, Anne, died in 2006. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

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