by Nicole Wolverton
Evie Hone felt a great calling to be a painter. She was also called to become a nun. While she successfully did both, taking turns as a devotee of Cubism and a member of an Anglican convent, neither—ultimately—became her true legacy. Rather, it is her work with stained glass for which she is primarily remembered.
A description of a 1959 exhibition of Hone’s work at the Tate Britain museum in London notes:
The early 1930s were marked by the influence of the work of Georges Roualt. Indeed it is possible to consider that Rouault’s drawings and paintings, so deeply expressionistic and fervent, were responsible for awakening in her the realisation that in stained glass lay the possibility of combining formal statements of religious art with the under lying abstract design she desired to incorporate in her work.
Perhaps that awakening could only have occurred through experience—through a more mature outlook on life. Hone, born in Dublin in 1894, began to learn the art of stained glass making when she was 39 and received her first commission five years later. At a time when many artists are building a reputation, Hone was just beginning. By the time she died in 1955, Hone had produced over 150 stained glass panels. Her work is on display today in churches and museums across Ireland, Great Britain, and the United States.
That Hone became a renowned artist, particularly during a time when a woman of breeding was expected to take a husband and devote herself to the womanly arts, is not that surprising, given her family background. It was a family rich in well-known painters: she was a descendant of British painter and founder of the Royal Academy Nathaniel Hone, and distant cousin to Nathaniel Hone the Younger. Her family also had money—her father was a director of the Bank of Ireland, her mother a lawyer’s daughter—more than enough to support her art training in London and Paris. Of course, Hone had health problems that might have stood in her way: she suffered a partial paralysis as a child (from polio or from a fall, depending on which biographer you believe) and spent a good many years tolerating medical treatments.
But she did succeed. By her early 30s, Hone was exhibiting her Cubist paintings. Author and scholar Tomás O’Riordan, for the University College Cork in Ireland, wrote, “[t]here can be no doubt that Hone and [close friend Mainie] Jellett were the pioneers of abstract painting in Ireland. They revolutionised the thinking about art.” Hone’s work was well known in Ireland at the time, and she continues to be recognized for her Cubist paintings today; she was included in an exhibit on Cubism in 2013 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
We cannot know what prompted Hone’s decision, at age 31 when she was developing a reputation as an artist, to join an Anglican convent. O’Riordan speculates that she’d been considering religious life for some time. But embracing life as a nun meant giving up her art. She was prohibited from painting because the nuns at her convent considered it “a distraction.” Hone managed to adhere to that edict for a year before leaving the order to return to her life as an artist.
Those two lives—nun and Cubist painter—converged at that point: she joined An Túr Gloine’, a studio run by glass artist Sarah Pursur. Perhaps training in stained glass was a way to incorporate Hone’s religious calling into her artistic calling. Hone continued to produce glass art until she died. A biography on Hone suggests, “Bridging the arts and the crafts, her work consistently conveyed strong coloration, heavy symbolism and brilliant technique.”
It also conveyed Hone’s depth of experience—and her awakening.
Homepage photo A Walk in the Woods at Marlay at Limerick City Gallery of Art in Limerick, Ireland courtesy Alan Lesley Limerick City Gallery of Art
Government Buildings panel (My Four Green Fields) in Dublin, Ireland Government Buildings courtesy Merrion Street
St. Cecelia, Lanercost Priory in Brampton, Cambria courtesy Alan Lesley