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Thomas Hovenden Edit Profile

artist , teacher

Thomas Hovenden was an Irish artist and teacher.


Hovenden was born on December 28, 1840 in Dunmanway, Ireland. His parents died at the time of the potato famine and he was placed in an orphanage at the age of six.


Apprenticed to a carver and gilder, Hovenden studied at the Cork School of Design. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City.


In 1863 Hovenden immigrated to the United States. He moved to Baltimore in 1868 and then left for Paris in 1874. He studied at the École des Beaux Arts under Cabanel, but spent most of his time with the American art colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany led by Robert Wylie, where he painted many pictures of the peasantry. Returning to America in 1880, he became a member of the Society of American Artists and an Associate member of the National Academy of Design (elected Academician in 1882). He was commissioned by Mr. Robbins Battell to paint a historical picture of the abolitionist leader John Brown. He finished The Last Moments of John Brown in 1884. His Breaking Home Ties, a picture of American farm life, was engraved with considerable popular success. In 1886, he was appointed Professor of Painting and Drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, replacing Thomas Eakins who was dismissed due to his use of nude models. Among Hovenden's students were the sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder and the leader of the Ashcan School, Robert Henri. Hovenden was killed at the age of 54, along with a ten-year-old girl, by a railroad locomotive at a crossing near his home in Plymouth Meeting. Newspaper accounts reported that his death was the result of a heroic effort to save the girl, while a coroner's inquest determined his death was an accident. A Pennsylvania state historical marker in Plymouth Meeting interprets Abolition Hall and Hovenden. Hovenden House, Barn and Abolition Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.


  • Hovenden was an Irish artist, who painted realistic quiet family scenes, narrative subjects and often depicted African Americans.


Member of the Society of American Artists (1880), Associate member of the National Academy of Design


Hovenden married Helen Corson in 1881, an artist he had met in Pont-Aven, and settled at her father's homestead in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. She came from a family of abolitionists and her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Their barn, later used as Hovenden's studio, was known as "Abolition Hall" due to its use for anti-slavery meetings.

Helen Corson