Evie Hone and the Modernisation of Irish Stained Glass

This is an Evie Hone window from Blackrock in Dublin – Bridget, Mary and Jesus, and Patrick. Evie Hone is one of our greatest stained glass artists and helped to move the practice of stained glass into a more modern direction. To appreciate this, it is helpful to know a little of her background.

Our Lady of the Rosary, completed in 1948 for the Catholic Church in Greystones, Co Wicklow. While the figure is not cubist, the influence of that style is discernible

She was born in 1894 Dublin, a member of the extended Hone clan of painters and artists. A childhood accident left her disabled and in pain but also set the course for her life’s work by providing the consolation of sketching. She studied in Britain, Ireland and Paris, where she came under the influence of the Cubists, and also met her great friend and fellow-modernist, Mainie Jellett.

The Good Shepherd, also from Greystones

The two women applied to exhibit at the Royal Hibernian Academy but it was dominated by male traditionalists who refused to allow cubist paintings to be shown. They responded by exhibiting elsewhere and by starting a new organisation (the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, or IELA) for those interested in modern art. At first critics ridiculed this new style of painting but young artists were enthusiastic and gradually she and Mainie “introduced modern art to Ireland.”*

Evie Hone stained glass on display in the new, and very popular Stained Glass Room in the National Gallery

Evie was deeply spiritual, at one point joining a community of Anglican nuns and eventually converting to Catholicism. Moving away from painting to stained glass she trained under Wilhelmina Geddes and eventually joined An Túr Gloine in 1935. Her stained glass work was never strictly cubist, although the influence was traceable, but it was thoroughly modern.

This is her Bridget window for Loughrea Catherdral, completed while she was a member of An Túr Gloine and at the beginning of her development as a stained glass artist. It is noticeably a more conservative and less modern treatment  – contrast it, for example with Bridget from the Blackrock Church

Nicola Gordon Bowe, in her entry on Evie Hone in The Encyclopedia of Ireland (edited by Brian Lalor) says of her work for An Túr Gloine, she was designing and painting mostly figurative windows using a powerfully innovative vocabulary of deep smouldering colour and loose expressionist brushwork.

Two small windows from Cloughjordan Church (Co Tipperary) depict Mary and Joseph. These windows were among her last, and are beautiful in their restrained style and subdued palette

From 1944 she worked in her own studio at Marley Grange in Rathfarnham. Gordon Bowe, again: In ten densely packed years she introduced a new, loosely painted, resonantly coloured, and sombrely religious treatment. We are fortunate that a short documentary recorded this period on her life and work. It also functions as a primer on stained glass!

View the documentary here

About the same time, in 1952, her friend and fellow-artist, Hilda van Stockum painted her in her studio, capturing her complete absorption in her work. This image comes from Marie Bourke’s paper* and is a copy of a photograph from a National Gallery Catalogue. The original painting is in the National Gallery.

What is most striking about her work, in contrast to her colleagues at An Túr Gloine, is how painterly it is. Using a restrained palette, with occasional bursts of bright colour, she creates quiet and reverential portraits of her sacred subjects. Modernity is obvious, but she herself claimed that the major influence on her work was medieval Irish carvings. If this was true, it was certainly mediated through an expressionist sensibility.

Bridget – detail from the Blackrock window

Evie Hone died in 1955. She has left an impressive legacy of paintings and stained glass windows. I have only used photographs that I have taken myself of windows that I have visited, but there are many more waiting to be explored.

* The quote, and also the photograph of the painting of Evie Hone in her Studio are from Evie Hone in Her Studio: Hilda Van Stockum’s Portrait, by Marie Bourke, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 86, No. 342 (Summer, 1997), pp. 165-174.  The paper is available on JSTOR

The Rock of Dunamase and Ireland’s Most Iconic Painting

The ruins on the Rock of Dunamase in County Laois date mainly from the 12th century, very shortly after the Norman Invasion of 1169. That invasion was led by Richard DeClare, Earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow, and it was at the invitation of Diarmuid MacMurrough, King of Leinster. MacMurrough had been ousted from his kingdom by Tiarnan O’Rourke and his allies, partly because MacMurrough had abducted O’Rourke’s wife Devorgilla (although some accounts say she went willingly). His request for help to King Henry II was welcomed, as the King was hoping to provide distraction to some over-ambitious knights, including deClare.

One of MacMurrough’s incentives to Strongbow was the promise of his daughter, Aoife, in marriage. The marriage took place in Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford in 1170 and following the death of Diarmuid in 1171, Strongbow declared himself King of Leinster.

The summit of the Rock commands views of several counties

So where does the Rock of Dunamase come in? It was one of the MacMurrough strongholds, and accordingly was part of Aoife’s dowry when she married Strongbow. Thus, it is inextricably associated with the most turbulent events in Irish History. For some of the later (and indeed earlier) history of the Rock, I refer you to The Irish Aesthete’s excellent post A Rock and a Hard Place.

The Barbican Gate, with the curtain wall and corner tower above and behind

The fortifications and buildings at the Rock are in a ruinous state, of course, but enough remain to give you a good idea of what a strategic site this was and how the defences were designed. The first entrance was a barbican gate behind which was a small area known as the Inner Barbican. Once there, you were at the mercy of archers situated on top of the inner, or curtain wall, shooting down from their crenellated parapet.

From the OPW informational sign

The curtain wall ran around the entire top of the rock. For three quarters of its length it was impossible to attack or breach with the weapons of the time because the wall was built at the top of a steep slope.

The more gentle slope of the east side necessitated the additional defence of the barbican gate. From the inner barbican a massive gatehouse with two towers gave access to the bawn or ward, while two corner towers guarded the northerly and southerly extent of the wall.

Looking upwards towards the Great Hall from the massive Main Gatehouse

There are indications of other buildings inside the curtain wall, but all that is really significant today  is a large rectangular building known as the Great Hall. This was subject to reconstruction in the 1700s by the then owner (a grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell) but the building project was never completed.

The main result of this reconstruction is to obscure and confuse original versus later parts of the fabric of the Hall. Everywhere you look what appears to be a gothic window embrasure is suddenly sporting red brick.

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife is the title of an enormous painting by Daniel Maclise that hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland (see the final photograph for the complete painting). It is, in fact, the largest painting in the Gallery, and has been completely conserved in recent years – a series of videos recording this massive process is available on YouTube (just Google ‘Strongbow and Aoife conservation’). But start with this video, in which Dr Brendan Rooney talks about the painting itself.

According to Dr Rooney, the background to the painting is of the City of Waterford, the city on which the marriage took place. The use of this backdrop (rather than, say, the interior of a church)  is used to dramatise the conflict between the Normans and the Irish Chieftains and the consequences of the invasion. He points out a round corner tower that appears to be based on Reginald’s Tower in Waterford, and asserts that the arched gateway calls to mind ‘similar’ gateways in New Ross and Drogheda.

Even if the backdrop is intended to convey a picture of Waterford it seems obvious to me that it is inspired by and based heavily on the Rock of Dunamase. This makes perfect sense from both an historical and a visual point of view. First of all, Maclise was depicting a catastrophic moment in Irish history that is closely associated with the Rock, in that it was the seat of the MacMorroughs, transferred to Strongbow as part of Aoife’s dowry, and which allowed him to subsequently claim succession rights to the Kingship of Leinster.

Secondly – look at it! While there may be echoes of Reginald’s Tower and other Irish medieval sites (such as a round tower) in the painting, it is clearly the Rock of Dunamase that is being depicted. Waterford is essentially flat: there are still stretches of its town walls extant, but they are on level ground. Maclise was known for meticulously researching his subject matter and it seems obvious to me that the marriage is being consecrated in front of the Barbican Gate, while above and behind are the ramparts of the curtain wall. There are a few Irish Norman castle sites that are built on a rocky prominence, but the most dramatic of them is the Rock of Dunamase.

Maclise’s The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife is one of our most iconic paintings and has been one of the most beloved because of the subject matter. At the same time, the Rock of Dunamase is central to the most critical juncture on our history. They belong together – don’t you agree?

Daniel Maclise (1806-1870), ‘The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife’, c.1854. © National Gallery of Ireland