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    A Wayside Chat by artist Thomas Hovenden, part of the French Connection exhibition at the Hunt Museum in Limerick until October 10. (click on image to enlarge)

    THERE are at least three works by Dunmanway born Thomas Hovenden (1840-1890) in the art collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  Yet he is practically unknown in his native country.
    An exhibition now on at the Hunt Museum in Limerick may go some way towards redressing this imbalance.  Organised by James Adam The French Connection focuses on Irish artists who worked in France in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  This is a show of 35 works by artists including  Nathaniel Hone, Sir John Lavery, William John Leech, Roderic O’Conor,  Walter Frederick Osborne and  two paintings, A Wayside Chat and The Story of the Hunt, by Thomas Hovenden.
    Orphaned at the age of six during the Great Famine he went on to become a member of the Society of American Artists (1881), the Philadelphia Society of Artists (1883) and an Associate member of the National Academy of Design (1881). He succeeded Thomas Eakins as Professor of Painting and Drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1886-88) and his students included Alexander Calder and the leader of the Ashcan School, Robert Henri. Around the time of his untimely death in an accident academic painting went out of fashion and so he was soon to be forgotten.
    Hovenden arrived in America at the end of the Civil War and rose to fame painting patriotic scenes in sympathy with the American version of Victorian values, and later  for paintings of African Americans during the Abolitionist movement. Among his works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection are The Last Moments of John Brown. His work features in the collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
    He spent time painting in Pont-Aven and his influence can be seen in the work of contemporaries, especially Aloysius O’Kelly. Hovenden was apprenticed to the Cork carver and gilder George Tolerton, who noted his skill at draughtsmanship and sent him to the Cork School of Design in 1858 (later to become the Crawford). Part of the South Kensington School (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), the Cork school promoted the ideas of Aestheticism and the teachings of John Ruskin at the time. Although the school focused on design, Hovenden subscribed to the notion of painting as a higher art with a social and moral purpose, and advanced his draughtsmanship by sketching the school’s collection of Antonio Canova’s plaster cast statuary as well as painting plein air watercolours. He was a medal
    winning student.  Later he studied in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Alexandre Cabanel.
    The French Connection is at the Hunt Museum until October 10.

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