Nathaniel Hone RA (1718 - 1784)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Nathaniel Hone was a celebrated Irish-born artist and Founder Member of the Royal Academy whose quarrel with Joshua Reynolds, the first President of the Royal Academy, led to Hone staging what may have been the first solo retrospective exhibition in the history of British art.

Hone was born in Dublin in 1718, but moved to England as a young man. It is thought that he spent some time travelling around the country painting portraits before marrying Mary Earle in York in 1742. Six years later he moved to London, where he painted in oils as well as producing miniatures.

In 1760 Nathaniel Hone began to exhibit with the Society of Artists, submitting The Brick-Dust Man. He exhibited regularly with the Society until the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768, when he became a Founder Member. Hone quickly gained a reputation as a troublemaker thanks to his work submitted for the 1770 annual exhibition, Two Gentlemen in Masquerade, which portrayed two of the artist’s friends dressed as Capuchin monks, one using his crucifix to stir a bowl of punch. The Academy asked Hone to paint over this sacrilegious detail, which he did, although he later published an engraving showing the original composition.

Hone’s next clash with the Academy became one of the major scandals of 18th-century art. In 1775 he submitted The Conjuror to the annual exhibition, a work widely read as a satirical attack on the President of the Royal Academy, Joshua Reynolds. The painting depicts Reynolds as a wizened figure presiding over a collection of Old Master prints, skewering his artistic reliance on poses borrowed from classical paintings. While Reynolds’s response is not recorded, Hone succeeded instead in severely offending Angelica Kauffman, who was outraged by a naked female figure in black stockings dancing in the background of the painting, read as a reference to her. This was painted over in the finished work, although it is visible in a surviving sketch.

After Kauffman wrote to inform the Council that she would withdraw all of her paintings from the exhibition if The Conjuror was displayed, it was removed. In protest, Hone hired premises on St Martin’s Lane and staged a one-man show of his work, placing the offending painting at the centre and using the catalogue to publish an essay defending it. Hone never repeated his solo venture, exhibiting works at the Royal Academy from the following year until his death in 1784.


Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 24 April 1718 in Dublin

Died: 14 August 1784

Nationality: Irish

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Nathaniel Hone in the RA Collection

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Works after Nathaniel Hone in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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