11 months ago

Artistic License: Nathaniel Hone


This year marks 100 years since the National Gallery of Ireland received a bequest of over 500 works by the 19th-century landscape artist NATHANIEL HONE

Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917), A View of Cliffs, Etretat. All photographs © National Gallery of Ireland.

To celebrate this milestone “Nathaniel Hone: Travels of a Landscape Artist” includes archival material and 17 oil paintings and watercolours. Curator Sarah McAuliffe tells us more about the exhibition …

Nathaniel Hone was well travelled – living in France for 17 years and travelling to Egypt, Asia and Greece. Did he travel as the result of commissions or private interest?

The motivation for Hone’s wide-ranging travels was his personal interest in exploring different parts of the world and documenting much of what he witnessed while he was abroad on his canvas. Hone was financially stable throughout his life and this allowed him to support his career as an artist and travel widely. This, however, was not the case for many other artists working at the same time as Hone. Hone’s travels placed him in a privileged position for a 19th-century artist and his landscapes dating from his years of travel would have given viewers in Ireland an insight into parts of the world that they might otherwise never see. Just as viewers of the 19th and early 20th century would have been taken on a journey around Europe, Asia and Africa when viewing Hone’s paintings, visitors to the exhibition today will be taken on a voyage through Hone’s artistic career.

Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917), The Parthenon, Athens, 1891/1892.

The new exhibition marks the centenary of the bequest – what is special about this particular exhibition?

While “Nathaniel Hone: Travels of a Landscape Artistcelebrates a collection of Hone’s oils and watercolours that has been in the Gallery’s holdings for several years now, this exhibition showcases a number of works by Hone that have never been on display in the Gallery before and in this way it is hoped that visitors will walk away from the exhibition having learned something new about the artist’s life and artistic style. Including works in the exhibition that are usually not on display in the Gallery led to a number of new discoveries. For example, we learned that one of the works in the show was dated by Hone, which is very unusual as he rarely dated his work. Hone’s dated works, while far and few between, help us to understand where he was travelling during particular points in his career and whether he visited the same place more than once in his life. In addition, the public will undoubtedly be aware of Hone’s Irish pastoral scenes. However, they may not be as familiar with his paintings of the Forest of Fontainebleau, coastal scenes in Holland, or the ancient monuments of Greece and Egypt. It is hoped that this exhibition will underline the depth and range of both Hone’s travels and the subjects he painted.

Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917), A View of Villefranche from the East, c.1880. 

Tell us a little about Hone’s style of painting?

Hone’s style of painting encompasses a wide range of influences. When he moved to Paris in 1853 to study painting in the ateliers of Adolphe Yvon and Thomas Couture he learned to closely examine the landscape, figure, or object before him and came to understand the importance of underpainting when working toward a finished canvas. Much of this training is evident in the exhibition. During his time in France, Hone adapted the techniques of some of his peers, particularly, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, into his personal style. Many of the oils and watercolours that make up this exhibition are characterised by a loose rendering of airy landscapes and a softness of form in keeping with the Barbizon School, to which Hone was closely associated with. Visitors will recognise similar trends in Hone’s style as they move from one painting to the next in the exhibition, such as his interest in capturing the changing effects of light and his use of reds and blues for shadows, which would later become a characteristic of Impressionism.

Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917), North Africa.

Have you any favourites from the exhibition?

This is a tough one – I felt that when I was selecting a rather small number of oils and watercolours by Hone for the exhibition, in comparison to the Gallery’s vast collection of his work (211 oils and 336 works on paper), that I had finally pinpointed my favourite 30! There is something quite unique about each of the works in the exhibition and each speaks to a different stage in Hone’s artistic oeuvre. I will say that when I saw Wheatfield by the Sea and North Africa in person for the first time the concept of the exhibition really started to take shape and I could see the direction I wanted the show to go in. Additionally, there is one work in the exhibition that I think is quite different from any oils or watercolours I’ve seen by Hone and that is The Spreading Tree, which subtly calls to mind Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom (1890) in both technique and colour palette. At first glance it would appear that Hone sketched the work in oil pastel, but as one moves closer and examines the painting the layers of paint are revealed.

Need to Know: “Nathaniel Hone: Travels of a Landscape Artist” opens at the National Gallery of Ireland on Saturday, February 23 and runs until December 1. Admission is free; www.nationalgallery.ie.

Penny McCormick

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