On Saturday March 27 1858 the sculptor John Hogan died at his home at 14 Wentworth Place, Dublin. He was only 57 years old and had been troubled for some time with Asthma and while the disease had assumed a dangerous form for a few days, his death still came as a great shock.
John Hogan was Ireland’s most eminent neoclassical sculptor, a man gifted with the highest order of genius. In Skibbereen we’re lucky in that we have a work of art by Hogan. In St Patrick’s Cathedral a piece sculpted by Hogan, most likely in 1833, adorns the southern wall and there’s no doubt that its beauty enhances the cathedral beyond measure.
Although not one of Hogan’s more widely recognised masterpieces, the marble relief, dedicated to the memory of Bishop Michael Collins, is a very significant piece of art and was the first of Hogan’s funerary relief works and shows him keeping strictly to neoclassical conventions. The work, inscribed ‘Hogan fecit’, although in marble, has been painted white rendering the surface a dull matt.
The memorial marks the burial place of Bishop Michael Collins, the man who was responsible for building the cathedral, and was erected to his memory by the people of Skibbereen. Executed in marble, the piece shows a seated allegorical personification of Religion mourning the great Bishop as she gazes at an oval cameo relief of the deceased prelate. At her feet rest the miter and other insignia of his sacred office. Elaborate drapery falls around the limbs, fold upon fold. Astonishingly, just one inch of projection carries all this mass of detail.
John Hogan was born in Tallow, Co. Waterford, on October 14 1800 but his family moved to Cork in 1801. Hogan has a West Cork connection. His father, John Hogan, a carpenter and builder of Cove Street, Cork, was employed about 1795 by Richard Gumbleton of Castle Richard, near Tallow, in some building work. While working on contract in Dunmanway, he met Miss Frances Cox, a great granddaughter of Sir Richard Cox, Lord Chancellor of Ireland. In 1796 John married Frances in spite of the disapproval of her family, who considered the match as a mésalliance. Her fortune of £2,000 was withheld by her indignant family, and her husband appears to have been too proud to urge his claim to the money. The third child of that marriage was John Hogan.
John Hogan’s first employment was as an apprentice in the office of Mr. Michael Foote, an attorney. A desk job was not for Hogan, however, and soon he was set free and took up a position in the workshop of Messrs. Deane and Co. as a draughtsman and carver of models. Hogan’s gift was recognised and a subscription was raised to send him to Rome to study as a sculptor.
Hogan went to Rome to study in the spring of 1824 and he quickly became a prominent figure in the artistic and cultural life of the city. The genius displayed in the design and execution of his work obtained for Hogan the honour of being elected a member of the Society of the Virtuosi of the Pantheon. This is the greatest distinction an artist can enjoy and he was the first British subject ever to have been enrolled among the members of that very select society.
Rome was Hogan’s home from 1824 to 1848 but he made occasional visits home to Ireland. It was on one of these visits in late 1832 and early 1833 that he received the commission for the work at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen. Dr. Collins died on December 8 1832 and the commission was more than likely given to Hogan when he was in Cork in early 1833.
Originally the empty sarcophagus was placed under the Hogan masterpiece and over the remains of Dr. Collins who was buried inside the cathedral. During major renovations to the cathedral in the early 1950s the sarcophagus was moved outside.
There are also two very good examples of Hogan’s work in Bantry House. The story behind their commission is quite interesting. Hogan’s studio in Rome was on the itinerary of many art-loving tourists. In 1842-43 Mary White, Lady Berehaven, and later second countess of Bantry, and her husband, Richard White, Viscount Berehaven, and later second Earl of Bantry, visited Hogan in his studio in Rome. In just under two weeks Hogan recorded their likenesses in a series of sittings in preparation for the execution of two marble busts which were completed after the couple had left the city. While some of Hogan’s assistants would have worked on these two marble busts, Hogan alone would have put the finishing touches, or last hand, to the carving of the marble, this final touch securing the statues’ authenticity.
On November 11 1837 John Hogan married Cornelia Bevignani, an Italian. Hogan’s happiest years were undoubtedly spent in Rome, but at the outbreak of the Roman revolution in 1848 Hogan and his family fled the Eternal City and came back to Dublin to live.
When John Hogan died on March 27 1858 he left a widow and eleven young children. While his genius was well recognised and he was the most hard-working of men, unfortunately, like many artists, Hogan was not a good manager of his financial affairs and was in a state of poverty at the time of his death and left no provision for his widow and children. His fortunes had not been helped by his return to Dublin during the Famine at a very depressed time in Ireland. A Hogan Testimonial Subscription raised a total of £1,252 and his widow got a Civil List pension of £110 per annum.
At the time of his death, some reports alluded to the fact that Hogan had not been paid at all or had not been paid in full for some of his commissions. Unfortunately, Skibbereen may have been culpable in this respect. In the ‘Irish Penny Journal’ of December 19 1840, referring to the Bishop Collins marble relief, George Petrie wrote that Hogan “was to have received £200, but there is still a balance of £30 due to him.”
If that was the case, John Hogan certainly did not hold it against the people of Skibbereen. On January 29 1847, while still living in Rome, Hogan sent £20 to the Mayor of Cork “… apply it to the funds collecting for the relief of those poor famishing people, who are most in want, either in Skibbereen or Bantry…”. He had obviously read some of the reports of the awful conditions prevailing in this part of the country at the height of the Great Famine and remembered his West Cork connections.