Some Statues by John Hogan

A Machine-Readable Version

Thomas MacGreevy

Original Source: The Father Mathew Record. Dublin. August 1943. pp.5-6.

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Some Statues by John Hogan

By Thomas MacGreevy

There is no Irish artist of the past whose work calls more insistently for revaluation than the sculptor, John Hogan. Born of humble parents in County Waterford in the year 1800, he died famous as long ago as 1857. Yet no exhaustive study of his work has ever been published and there is very little active interest in him. Considering what a great man he was, this apathy makes one feel inclined to surrender to the old and only too often wretchedly justified belief that for any artist to set out to be a specifically Irish artist is to set out on the road of lonely battles against indifference on the part of those who can afford to be interested, and lack of means to provide the necessary backing on the part of those who are enthusiastic. It is undeniable that during the nineteenth century, and the early twentieth century too, the ruling class in Ireland, the class that could afford to pay, tended — it was natural enough — to interest itself in Irish artists only if they could make good in London. And — as was natural too — an Irish artist could only make good in London to the extent that he ceased to be Irish. Hogan, with the lack of worldly wisdom that is one of the characteristics of the great artist, simply gave London the go-by. Why, indeed, except for commercial reasons, should he not? Since the Reformation there had been no English sculpture of outstanding importance. Also, of course, most pre-Reformation sculpture in England had been destroyed — though, a hundred and twenty years ago, when Hogan was a young man, that mattered less, for mediæval sculpture hardly counted. In those days few people realised that the portals of Notre Dame de Chartres, for instance, included a fair proportion of the greatest sculpture the world has ever seen; fewer still that what remained of early Christian and mediæval Irish sculpture was worthy of serious study. That was because the classicism of the Renaissance held sway. Hogan's instinct, however, was more than merely fashionably classical. He was a born classicist and Italy was obviously the place for him to study. To Italy, therefore, he was sent by his admirers in Cork — where his gifts were discovered — and Dublin. And, for more than twenty years, in Italy he stayed, taking only a very occasional holiday at home and returning for good only in 1848.

There, then, as Henry James might say, he precariously was — a young Irishman in Rome, a young Irishman of lowly origins and, in the matter of this world's goods, very poor indeed, but rich in genius and determined to use his gifts for the glory of his own country, while acknowledging that it was Rome's treasures from Greek and Graeco-Roman antiquity and from the Renaissance, which helped him to develop those gifts. He had a few supporters, Irishmen and Italians, the great Scandinavian sculptor, Thorwaldsen, even an Englishman or two — but when it is a question of such an expensive and communal art as sculpture, a few supporters are not enough. Organised society, a governing class, has to be interested if a sculptor is to live and produce more than a fraction of what he has it in him to produce and wants to produce.

If the Irish governing class of the day remained flatly indifferent to the sculptor of genius who had sprung from the Irish people, there were unofficial bodies more representative of the people, and with a surer artistic instinct, who were interested — the Repeal Association, for instance, and the Young Irelanders. The former commissioned Hogan to execute the colossal statue of O'Connell    
                        Daniel O'Connell
                    which now stands in the Dublin City Hall. This statue could not, I think, legitimately be described as beautiful in the traditional sense. But it must be the noblest statement about O'Connell that has ever achieved valid utterance. It is probably the greatest piece of sculpture executed by an Irishman since the High Cross at Monasterboice, and in its own genre one of the greatest sculptured portraits executed in any European country during the last two hundred years. I should rank it considerably higher than, for instance, Canova's nude, over-idealised, relatively characterless, Buonaparte in Milan, or even than Rude's vivid Marshall Ney opposite the Observatory in Paris. First of all, it shows an almost impeccable mastery of form, in the sense that it is unified in conception and that the sculptor has been able to give animation to the whole structure of the figure. It is alive throughout. Every square inch of the surface has the appropriate kind and degree of movement and stillness necessary to create the illusion of life. There are very few artists whose human figures awaken in the beholder the sense of the wonder of the living form. Yet it is a thing that can arouse a feeling of almost religious awe. "I am fearfully and wonderfully made," says the psalmist. In all his figures Hogan had that sense of the miracle of creation that is the human form, but in the O'Connell    
                        Daniel O'Connell
                    it was put to its greatest test. For at the time that he began to work on the statue, about 1844, O'Connell was long past the prime of manhood . He was, in fact, nearly seventy and had only a few years to live. There was no longer anything of the Greek athlete about him — if ever there had been. Always a big man, he had grown rather fleshy. But Hogan, being a great and highly sensitive artist, was able to give refined statement to the unrefined fact of O'Connell's prodigious physique. Thus, without denying that here and there O'Connell tended unduly to bulge, he designed the classical folds of the mantle to carry one over to the dignity, one might indeed say to the majesty, of the figure as a whole, to the heroic proportions and movement, the splendid shoulders, the magnificently poised head. Again, there is no denial of the unclassical pugnaciousness of the O'Connell chin, but how Hogan balances it by insisting on the fine lines about the mouth, suggestive of mobility, of eloquence, of charm, of humour. Here is where one realises that all the stories of O'Connell's genius as an orator must be absolutely true. And then, even if the eyes were small, as Hogan complained they were small, (just as he complained about the amount of what he called "morbid flesh" round the chin), the lines about them are made to suggest a potential variety of expression, indicative of great range and depth of understanding, the quality that justified our people in entrusting their political destinies to its possessor at a particular time and for a particular purpose. Hogan told Davis that he wished this statue to express "all the power and grandeur of concentrated Ireland". A figure, he said "no more of weeping and weakness but of pride and command". He succeeded nobly in putting all this into the statue, and it is not an exaggeration to claim that few, if any, of the Roman emperors had their biographies written in marble with at once such frankness and such exhaltation of spirit as Hogan showed in writing O'Connell's biography here.

From O'Connell to Drummond! Drummond was the young Scotsman who brought a conscience to the post of Under-Secretary of State for Ireland, which he held from 1835 to 1840; the man who, when the Tipperary magistrates pressed him to adopt extreme measures against the people in their county, told them bluntly that they themselves, by evicting 20,000 people from their homes in five years, were the cause of the disturbances they now wanted to have put down by force. "Property," he said "has its duties as well as its rights." The Hogan statue of Drummond    
                        Thomas Drummond
                    stands nearly opposite to the O'Connell    
                        Daniel O'Connell
                    in the Dublin City Hall. Unlike the O'Connell, it has an immediate appeal. Even in Rome it caused a sensation, and one is not surprised. With all its treasures, Rome has not so many statues in which nobility and graciousness are combined to a greater degree than here. In a sense the Drummond    
                        Thomas Drummond
                    is a preparation for the O'Connell. Hogan completed it in 1843. Drummond had been but a fleeting apparition from outside in the course of Irish history. He came, a young man of generous instincts. As far as the political system of which he was a part allowed, he did good. And then in a bare five years he was gone to an early grave. But Ireland blessed his memory and Hogan has commemorated him in his youth and goodness. He was not, of course, flesh of Ireland's flesh and bone of its bone, and he probably never had the immense personal capacity for good or ill that O'Connell had, so there was no need for Hogan to preoccupy himself with such subtleties and contrasts, such counterpointing in the matter of characterisation as in the case of O'Connell. And similarly with the relatively youthful springing form. Hogan had only to give it nobility and grace of proportion. Which, being Hogan, was, one might say, no trouble to him. The result of it all is that if, for a short time, Drummond tried to treat the Irish people well, the Irish people, as represented by a sculptor who was one of themselves, did Drummond proud for ever.

Very early in his career Hogan had shown that he could be an imaginative poet in sculpture. His classicism [p.6] made him not merely a close, but a discriminating, student of nature. Thus the animals in his shepherd and goatherd groups — there is one at the Ministry of External Affairs    
                           The Goatherd
                       — are as fine in conception and execution as his human figures. And right across Europe The Drunken Faun    
                           The Drunken Faun
                       won immediate fame.

Then there is Hogan's religious work. Though it is placed beneath the alter, and is therefore not easy to study, there seems to every justification for thinking that the Dead Christ    
                        The Dead Christ
                    at St. Teresa's Church, in Clarendon Street, Dublin, is a not unworthy attempt to realise at least one aspect of the most tragic and most sublime of all tragedies. It is also one of the greatest, as it is one of the first modern expressions of the religious sentiment of the Irish people. And I think the small Resurrection    
                    group at Saint Andrew's, Westland Row, so grave a mood, so chaste of line, so quietly dramatic in movement, would attract attention even if it were placed on the wall of the Duomo in Florence, beside Donatello's famous Annunciation. In view of all this it is a matter for regret that necessity forced Hogan to give so much of his time to portraiture, and that all the greater works of his maturity are portraits. Even in portraiture he did not get the chance of expressing himself on the subject of the two men who were the most exaltedly tragic and most naturally graceful of all our poets, Mangan and Moore, though they were both his contemporaries. It is a very great pity, for Hogan, the lowly artist from Cork, had to an astonishing degree the mysterious capacity of suggesting the quality that Aristotle describes as "greatness of soul" in his subjects.

In his statue of Davis,    
                        Thomas Davis
                    however, Hogan had an opportunity of showing himself at once poet, portraitist and classicist. It now stands in the Dublin Municipal Gallery. Davis was, of course, something of a poet and something of a prophet. He was also — like the Young Irelanders, Gavan Duffy, J. B. Dillon and the ever-constant "Speranza" —a friend and an admirer of Hogan. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the statue suggesting that, for the sculptor, the commemoration of such a man and such a friend was a labour of love. The figure is clothed in the costume of the eighteen-forties, yet it is given the youthful grace of a Greek divinity. There is tenderness in the insistence on the turn of the head as towards a clearly seen goal, and in the youthful purposefulness of the expression. The eyes are the eyes of a visionary, the features are the features of a thinker, the hands those of a man of fine sensibility. Here again, the artist of the people paid handsome recognition to the young man of the Ascendency intelligentsia whose generous nature had impelled him to work and write on the side of justice and good government.

A statue of Hibernia and Cloncurry    
                        Hibernia and Cloncurry
                    at Castle Lyons constitutes a record not only of the determination of another member of the ruling class of the time to be at one with, and work for, the people amongst whom he lived — it also commemorates Cloncurry's unfailing friendship for Hogan and, not less important, the startling beauty of Hogan's tenderly loved Roman wife, who sat for the figure of Ireland. This latter figure suggests that no sculptor of modern times had a greater capacity than Hogan to give life and animation to the classical type of feminine loveliness.

In the majestic bust-portrait of Archbishop Murray    
                        Archbishop Murray
                    at the National Gallery the majesty would seem to derive as much from the patient expression as from the noble bearing. And then there is the O'Connell    
                    statue in Limerick. If the O'Connell    
                    in Dublin is O'Connell the great tribune, the one in Limerick is the perfect complement, being O'Connell the dignified yet winning gentleman — a rôle that we know O'Connell had at easy command. Less heroic than the Dublin statue, the Limerick O'Connell is all quiet distinction, a beautiful work.

O'Connell brings us back to Emancipation and that other outstanding protagonist of Emancipation, J.K.L., John Doyle, the young Augustinian priest who at thirty-three became Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Of him, Hogan executed a statue    
                        Bishop John Doyle
                    which is now in Carlow Cathedral. It is one of the sculptor's greatest achievements, ranking with the Dublin O'Connell,    
                    the Drummond    
                    and the Davis    
                    . In the matter of mere æsthetic it is perhaps more important than any of them. It puts Hogan's classicism to its severest test, for the Bishop's robes placed all superficial imitation of the antique out of the question. These robes are represented completely realistically, down to the embroideries on the cape. In short, the classical temper, if it was to be stated here at all, had to be realised without any external aids. But the classical temper is triumphantly there, in the intellectual refinement of the youthful features, in the serene courage of the lifted head and the raised right arm, in the unaffected sympathy suggested by the protective gesture of the left arm towards the bowed figure of Ireland. The curiously sympathetic disinterestedness of the Greek heroic ideal is here carried over into circumstances that, superficially considered, might seem to be utterly un-Greek. But were they so un-Greek? The integration of the Hellenic spirit into the Christian outlook was first successfully achieved by the later poets of the Greek Anthology. A thousand years after them it was achieved by the great artists of the early Renaissance in Florence. But the late Roman Empire and the Florence of the Renaissance were civilisations, Hogan's Ireland, the Ireland of a hundred years ago, the Ireland from which O'Connell and J.K.L. emerged and for which Drummond and Davis fought, was not a civilisation. It was religiously, socially and politically, the underworld of a civilisation. But Hogan knew that underworld, he belonged to it, and he realised that, underworld and all as it was, it had greatness of soul — the quality which is called Greek because it first achieved mature expression in the art of Greece but that, for those who have eyes to perceive it, is to be found everywhere. That greatness of soul Hogan had the capacity to mirror in his work. And it is because of that capacity, revealed chiefly in these few statues of men who, to the best of their varied abilities, gave effective expression to the needs of the Irish people a hundred years ago, that John Hogan ranks as a supreme artist.