On This Day – 26 October 1831 – Birth of painter Nathaniel Hone

 

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Nathaniel Hone the Younger (Yes .. I know he doesn’t look very young – and ‘Pastures at Malahide’)

The birth of Nathaniel Hone the Younger on 26 October 1831 affords an excellent opportunity to ignore him almost completely, and talk about his far more interesting great-grand uncle, Nathaniel Hone the Elder.

To dispatch Younger as rapidly as possible, he began his career as a railway engineer but proved himself to be a true Hone when he took up painting as a profession and went to study in Paris … where else? How come nobody ever studied art in Basildon or Southend?  He also married a member of the Jameson distilling family and settled in North Dublin, making him far more of a truly Irish artist than his more celebrated and controversial ancestor of the same name.

One of Younger’s best-known pieces is ‘Pastures at Malahide’ which has lots of cows in the foreground and is otherwise composed of cute fluffy clouds. He was also related to the 20thcentury artist Evie Hone. And I hope that’s enough on Nathaniel Hone the Younger.

Now let’s get on to Nathaniel Hone the Elder, who was something of a lad and, with one painting at least, quite literally, brought bitchiness to a fine art.

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Nathaniel Hone the Elder (Yes … I know he looks younger than Nathaniel Hone the Younger. Confusing isn’t it?)

The first Natty Hone was an 18thcentury artist, son of a Dutch merchant based in Wood Quay in Dublin. At an early age he moved to London, married the daughter of the Duke of Argyll and established himself as a portrait painter before moving to Rome for further study. Once again neither Basildon nor Southend getting a look in.  One of Hone’s most famous sitters was the founder of Methodism, the great preacher John Wesley.  Hone was so highly regarded that he was one of the founder members of the Royal Academy, established in 1768. So far, so good.

But, in 1775 he painted a picture which rests not too far from here, in our own National Gallery. It’s called The Conjuror and depicts an aged Sir Joshua Reynolds in a distinctly unflattering light. Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, was the most celebrated portrait painter of his day. Unfortunately his day was the same as Hone’s. Which meant that Hone, had he played a violin, would have been second fiddle to Reynolds. Both men were founders and members of the Royal Academy, but Reynolds got to hang out with the likes of Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, David Garrick and Charles James Fox, in a group known collectively as ‘The Club’. Another member of his set was one of only two female members of the Royal Academy, the Anglo-Swiss artist Angelica Kauffman. That both Reynolds and Kaufmann held each other in high regard is undeniable. That they were lovers is also likely. That Hone loathed both of them can hardly be disputed either, given the subject matter of The Conjuror.

Reynolds had a habit of ‘quoting’ from the classical canon in many of his portraits, a practice that Hone could not abide.  In The Conjuror– whose full title was The Pictorial Conjuror, displaying the Whole Art of Optical Deception-an elderly bearded man, meant to represent Reynolds, sits in front of a cascade of classical portraits. A young smiling girl rests her elbows on his right leg. The young girl is intended to depict Angelica Kauffman, who was considerably younger than Reynolds. But that wasn’t the real problem, or the only representation of Kauffman in the original painting. In the top left-hand corner Hone added a group of naked artists in procession, waving paint brushes in the air. In the middle of this claque is a naked woman dressed only in black stockings. When the painting was presented to the Royal Academy for exhibition Kauffman objected, on the grounds that the scantily-clad female was clearly intended to be her. The painting was rejected by the Academy. Had Reynolds been the duelling type a challenge would almost certainly have followed. Dash it all, the honour of a woman was at stake! Hone spent a lot of time apologising and claiming that he had never intended any insult to Angelica Kaufmann. Nobody believed him, though it didn’t seem to do his career much harm.

Hone later exhibited a redacted version, with the nude figures painted out. This is the one that hangs in our National Gallery. The painters in the altogether were replaced by what looks like an image of the members of ‘The Club’ assembled around a writing table. This was displayed in a retrospective Hone exhibition, the first of its kind to be devoted to a single artist. The event’s lustre is slightly diminished, however, by the fact that it was all organised by Hone himself. He died in London in 1784 at the age of sixty-six.

Nathaniel Hone the Younger, his esteemed great-grand nephew, was born, one hundred and eighty-seven years ago, on this day.

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‘The Conjuror’ by Nathaniel Hone (the Elder)  – sublime bitchiness 

 

 

 

On This Day-29.1.1768 – Oliver Goldsmith’s first play The Good-Natured Man opens in London

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Oliver Goldsmith must have been the despair of his mother – his father didn’t live long enough to see him fail at almost everything to which he turned his hand. Eventually he would write one of the finest plays, one of the best novels and one of the most ambitious long poems of the 18th century – but not before he had managed to mess up almost every opportunity that came his way.

Goldsmith was born either in Longford or Roscommon in November 1728, son of a Church of Ireland curate. In 1730 the family moved to Westmeath when his father was appointed rector to a parish in that county. In 1744 Goldsmith was admitted to Trinity College – there he learned to drink, gamble and play the flute. Although neither he nor the college greatly profited from his brief tenure his subsequent fame has earned him one of the two most prominent statutes in that venerable institution, overlooking College Green.

His father died around the time he graduated and Goldsmith moved back in to the family home so that he could be a burden on his poor mother rather than on himself. He got a job as a tutor, and quickly lost it after a quarrel. He decided to emigrate to America, but managed to miss his boat. He then took fifty pounds with him to Dublin to help establish himself as a student of law, but instead he lost it all gambling. He pretended to study medicine in Edinburgh, but rather than knuckle down he took off on a Grand Tour of Europe, keeping body and soul together by busking with his flute.

Eventually he settled in London and began to churn out hack writing work to keep him gambling in the manner to which he had become accustomed. Because, in spite of himself, he also occasionally published something of merit, he came to the attention of the famous wit and lexicographer Samuel Johnson. He became a founder member of the club of writers and intellectuals unimaginatively entitled ‘The Club’. This included Johnson, his biographer James Boswell, the actor-manager David Garrick, the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke and the painter Joshua Reynolds. Heady company for a young ne’er do well from Ballymahon.

In 1760 he wrote the epic poem The Deserted Village – elements of which schoolchildren of a certain age were once forced to learn by heart. This tells the story of the fictional village of Auburn that has been laid waste to make way for the ornamental gardens of a local landowner. The poem is a critique of rural depopulation and the seizure of valuable agricultural land by the wealthy.

… The man of wealth and pride

Takes up a space that many poor supplied;

Space for his lake, his park’s extended bounds,

Space for his horses, equipage, and hounds:

The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth

Has robbed the neighbouring fields of half their growth

He followed this up with his charming novel The Vicar of Wakefield in 1766 and one of the greatest comic plays in the English language, She Stoops to Conquer, in 1773. Prior to that classic play he had a modicum of success with The Good Natured Man, which bombed on the London stage but, perversely, sold a lot of copies when the text was published.

Success enabled Goldsmith to carry on a style of life that virtually guaranteed an early exit. And so it proved. He continued to gamble and drink on a spectacular scale and ended up in debt and in bad health, simultaneously. He died in 1774 at the age of 45.

Despite all his achievements as a novelist, playwright and poet he’s probably still best remembered today for an inspired piece of doggerel, no pun intended, Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog – the title gives away the ending but the short verse is a satire on hypocrisy, corruption and pietism in which a man of acknowledged substance, guilty of all three vices, is bitten by a dog and given up for dead by the commentariat – then comes the sting in the tail (and yes, the pun is intended this time)

But soon a wonder came to light,

That showed the rogues they lied:

The man recovered of the bite,

The dog it was that died.

 

Oliver Goldsmith’s play The Good Natured Man opened in London to less than ecstatic reviews 247 years ago, on this day.

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