Aug 142013
Self portrait

Self portrait

Today’s post commemorates a fine artist, Irish by birth, who was a founder member of the Royal Academy and yet who was a pain in the neck to the self-righteous President of that august body, the cold fish known as Sir Joshua Reynolds.The man in question is Nathaniel Hone the Elder (so named because he had a distant nephew who also painted, 200 years later). Nathaniel the Elder was born on 24th April 1718 and was brought up in Dublin by his Dutch father.

He appears to have been self-taught as an artist, specializing in miniatures and small enamels, He married, and in the 1740’s travelled to London to get work as an itinerant artist. He was involved briefly with the Society of Artists, but left when he threw in his lot with those who wanted to form a Royal Academy. It was launched in 1768 under the leadership of Sir Joshua. So far so good. But Hone tired of the pontificating President, with his insistence on copying all things classical. Reynolds wanted all his students to study the Renaissance Italian masters, suggesting that only by copying them could anything of value be produced. Hone saw it for what it was – plagiarism, and he satirised the approach in a picture called The Conjurer, painted in 1775.

nathaniel hone the conjurer 1775

That didn’t go down well with Reynolds, or with the Hanging Committee of the R.A. who refused to exhibit it. Rather than have it out with Hone face to face, Reynolds wound up his protegée Angelica Kauffman and sent her into battle on his behalf.

Angelica by Angelica

Angelica by Angelica

Angelica was another founder member of the RA but she was devoted to Reynolds: allegedly Hone’s picture entitled The Conjurer also showed Kauffman, naked, in the top left hand corner. Kauffman objected – the implication was that she and Reynolds were having a physical relationship. Hone relented and painted over the nude figure but the Royal Academy were unmoved: they still refused to hang the painting.

Hone was thoroughly cheesed off and went away and held a one-man exhibition – the very first ever held in England – and achieved considerable success. Certainly he seems to have had more people through the doors to see his own exhibition that would ever have seen the painting in the Academy’s summer exhibition at Somerset House.

I rather like his portraits of men – rather more so than his female sitters, who to me all appear somewhat “samey”. Here are a few I like:-

Charles Lee Lewis

Charles Lee Lewis

This is his portrait of the blind magistrate Sir John Fielding, painted in 1762.

NPG 3834; Sir John Fielding by Nathaniel Hone

And a lovely portrait of his son John Camillus Hone, entitled The Spartan Boy

Nathaniel Hone The Spartan Boy. John Camillus Hone,  son of the artist

I also like his “Portrait of a Gentleman,”  followed by “The Piper boy”:

Nathaniel Hone portrait of a gentleman 1769

NathanielHone pb Nat Gallery

I think my favourite is his miniature portrait of a 93 year old  beggar called James Turner, painted in 1750:




Hone died on August 14th, 1784. And to end with here are another couple of self portraits:



  10 Responses to “Nathaniel Hone the Elder – a fine artist, died 14th August 1784.”


    Well, that’s a new one for me, Mike – I had never heard of Nathaniel Hone – elder or younger – before. Very interesting to hear that not all artists thought copying others was such a great idea!


      Anyone who thought that Reynolds was a bully and a bigot is OK by me. I seem to recall that Turner went rather further….



      Me too. Very strange really, since I know all the main artists of Hone’s generation. It goes to show that reputations rise and reputations fall, depending on PhDs, exhibitions and collections in our own era.


        I must admit I had not heard of him until I prepared to give a paper on the founder members of the Royal Academy. I wonder whether his “rebel status” i.e. offending Reynolds, led to the Establishment “burying his works under the carpet”? Also, his background was in miniatures – never quite as accessible to the general public.


    Sir Joshua Reynolds could be a little self-righteous on occasion, but I think you are being too hard on him. In general he was a friendly, generous and hospitable man.

    Among those who had a high opinion of Sir Joshua as a person as well as an artist were Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, James Boswell, Fanny Burney and her father Charles Burney, Edmund Malone, David Garrick, Charles Fox, and Edward Gibbon.


      I reserve the right to be prejudiced – because he came from Plymouth! I also think he was jealous of anyone he saw as a rival, and some of his paintings are badly finished and formulaic. That said, he held the RA together in its formative years – no small achievement given the can of worms for which he was responsible!


    I have heard it said that nobody had a higher opinion of Sir Joshua Reynolds than Sir Joshua Reynolds. I have never come across Hone before, so thank you! His portraits of youths are very youthful which is difficult accomplishment.


    I was the orginal owner of the Spartan boy. does anyone know where it is? I would like to see it or buy it back. thanks. Barry 609-402-6684


    Just found this site and maybe by now you have all gone, but I will try anyway. I am aware of a Hone the elder portrait in Clongowes Wood College in Ireland. It is of Bishop Daniel Delany (d.1814). I would date the painting between August 1783 and August 1784 when Hone died. I have very good reasons for that timeframe. This would mean that Hone was back in Ireland at some stage during this period. Are you aware of anything that would confirm this? Is there a list somewhere of all the paintings Hone did?


    Thanks for all your help, Mike. I will let you know. Enjoy Spain. It’s a land far, far, far away for us Aussies. Just across the waves for you Irish.

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