Hone, Nathaniel (1831–1917), painter, was born 26 October 1831 at Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin, one of the large family of Brindley Hone, lawyer and company director. The Hones had emigrated to Ireland from Holland in the early eighteenth century and produced a lord mayor of Dublin and many painters, including Nathaniel Hone the Elder (qv).
Nathaniel the younger entered TCD shortly before his fifteenth birthday to study engineering. Graduating in 1850, he began work constructing the Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland. When this line was finished, he considered doing more constructive engineering in South America but instead went to Paris to study painting in 1853. He was among the first of the Irish painters to study in France, and set a precedent. In Paris he studied under the military painter Adolphe Yvon (1817–93), and Thomas Couture (1815–79), a painter of ordinary street-life and of historical scenes, who trained his students to capture their first impressions. Hone absorbed this lesson but, unlike his teacher and fellow students such as Edouard Manet, he was attracted to neither classical nor urban subject-matter. After four years in Paris he moved in 1857 to the village of Barbizon (close to Fontainebleau), then home to a school of French landscape painters including Millet, Corot, and Courbet. Hone spent the next thirteen years around Barbizon and Fontainebleu, devoting himself almost exclusively to landscape painting. He achieved his style early and did not greatly develop it – there is strong continuity between his early French landscapes and later Irish seascapes. Thomas Bodkin (qv) wrote: ‘To his deep feeling for the colour of a landscape and his marvellous power to reproduce it, he joined a talent for bold design, a breadth of vision and a vigour of execution’ (Bodkin, 52), while Crookshank and Glin note ‘his ability to capture distance, sunlight and wind as it hastens the clouds and waves with great sweeping and eddying movements’ (Crookshank & Glin, 253). Hone's early critics, Bodkin and George Moore (qv), saw him as largely uninfluenced by the French school, but later critics count him as very much a Barbizon landscapist, ‘balancing the demand for objectivity, detail and finish, with that of truth to the impression’ (McConkey, 27). Corot, Courbet, and Henri Harpignies are reckoned particular influences.
Perhaps because he was financially independent, Hone exhibited seldom while in France – he showed seven paintings in the Salon over four years (1865–9), and had one work hung in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1862. About 1870 he moved to Italy, where he spent eighteen months. At the end of the Franco–German war in 1871, he returned to France to find his house at Bourron-Marlotte, near Barbizon, had been used by German soldiers and many of his things had vanished. This may have influenced his decision to leave France for Ireland.
Back in Dublin, he settled in Donabate, and lived in north Co. Dublin the rest of his life – in Seafield, Malahide (1876), in Moldowney, Malahide (1894), and after 1895 in St Doulough's Park, Raheny, which he inherited from his uncle. The most discernible effect on his painting of his move to Ireland was a passion for seascapes – over the next forty years he depicted many times the beaches and fishing boats around Dublin Bay, and went further afield to Donegal and Clare, where he painted the dramatic ‘Rocks at Kilkee’. An inveterate traveller, he also visited England, Holland, Germany, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt, and brought back sketches and paintings from each country.
An early member of the Dublin Sketching Club (inaugurated in 1874) and an associate of the RHA (1879), then a full member (1880), and professor of painting (1894–1917), Hone exhibited regularly in Dublin, but was slow to build a reputation. He was largely disregarded by critics and his paintings went frequently unpurchased, even at the relatively modest prices he set (typically £30). Bodkin felt that ‘because he was a rich man and chose to live his life in his own simple fashion . . . an idea obtained for a long time in his own country, where gross ignorance of all that concerns art is so prevalent, that he was only a gifted amateur’ (Bodkin, 55). This situation was improved by Sarah Purser (qv), who organised a seminal exhibition of paintings by Hone and John B. Yeats (qv) in St Stephen's Green, Dublin (October–November 1901). Writing about the event a half-century later, Thomas MacGreevy (qv) felt that it was ‘the inevitable point of departure of the modern Irish school of painting’ (MacGreevy, Capuchin Annual, 497). George Moore wrote a preface to the catalogue of the exhibition, in which he praised Hone, though he found him a little apathetic and lacking in vivacity. The press was largely appreciative, with the Irish Times admiring the integrity of both artists. Writing later, Kenneth McConkey noted that Hone ‘proposed a new idiom, which immediately made those of the earlier generation seem fussy, frail, and quintessentially Victorian’ (McConkey, 30). The most significant outcome of the exhibition was in raising the interest of Hugh Lane (qv), who began thereafter to collect and exhibit Yeats, Hone, and other Irish artists. Hone was represented at the important Lane exhibition of Irish artists at the London Guildhall in 1904; at the Franco–British exhibition of 1908; at the international exhibition in Rome in 1911; at the Amory Show in New York, 1913; and at the exhibition of Irish art at the Whitechapel Art Gallery that year. Nevertheless when he died at home in St Doulough's on 14 October 1917, he was, says Bodkin, almost unknown beyond the circle of his acquaintances.
However, he enjoyed the esteem of his fellow artists and of certain critics, who set about building on the reputation for which Lane (by presenting Hone paintings to various galleries) had laid the foundations. Bodkin included Hone in his influential Four Irish landscape painters (1920), and the artist's public standing was further enhanced by the bequest of his widow, who survived him by only a year, of over 500 oils and 800 watercolours to the NGI – with £1,500 provided for the gallery to accommodate the works. However, the terms of Mrs Hone's will were ambiguous, and the works were not on display for a number of years while Dermod O'Brien (qv), director of the RHA, carefully catalogued them. Bodkin wrote that the surprises of the catalogue were the previously unknown watercolours with their ‘slashing rapidity . . . accuracy of drawing and brilliancy of colour’ (Bodkin, 58), and Crookshank and Glin concur that Hone's sketches were nearly always more exciting than his exhibited pictures. An exhibition from the Hone bequest was held in the NGI in 1921; four years later a loan exhibition was held in the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, and in 1937 the Fine Art Society in London showed oils and watercolours. The governors of the NGI finally selected some hundreds of the most noteworthy works and sold the residue of the bequest.
But Hone's place as one of the foremost Irish artists is secure; in 2001 his ‘Malahide estuary’ went for over €90,000, though this does not compare with the prices commanded by his near contemporaries, Walter Osborne (qv) and William Orpen (qv). He is regarded preeminently as ‘a painter of the changing mood of the Irish climate’ (Crookshank & Glin, 253) and is credited with introducing French naturalism to Ireland.
At least six portraits of Hone were executed in his lifetime; the earliest, by the French artist Jacob-Edouard Brandon in 1870, is in the NGI, as is that by Walter Osborne. Lane commissioned William Orpen to do a portrait in 1907, which he then presented to the Municipal Gallery. John B. Yeats did two pencil sketches, which were judged to be excellent likenesses, and Dermod O'Brien commissioned a bronze medallion from Oliver Sheppard (qv).
Hone was erratic and careless in signing his pictures: ‘Nathaniel Hone’, ‘N. Hone RHA’, ‘Nathl Hone RHA’, and ‘N.H.’ all appear variously. Many of his oils, and all his watercolours, are unsigned. He married (1872) Magdalene, daughter of John Jameson of the wealthy distilling family. The couple had no children but lived in mutual devotion for forty-five years.