This print is the first in Hamilton’s ongoing set of illustrations to James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (first published in Paris, 1922). The project was begun in the late 1940s and to date comprises seven etchings created during the 1980s (Tate P77473, P77483, P77484, P77491, P77492, P77493, P77494), plus a digital print, The heaventree of stars
(P78316). Hamilton was first inspired by the idea of illustrating Joyce’s complex, experimental novel in 1947 while he was doing army service and began making sketches the following year, only to put the project to one side in 1950. It was not until 1981 that he made the decision to create one illustration for each of the novel’s eighteen chapters, and a nineteenth image – a portrait of one of the novel’s main protagonists, Leopold Bloom – destined as a frontispiece. He conceived these images as large intaglio prints in a range of styles.
In Horne’s house illustrates the fourteenth episode of Ulysses, known as the ‘Oxen of the Sun’ episode. Hamilton has explained:
The process of studying Joyce diligently was to provide me with not only subject matter, but it also demonstrated a stylistic and technical freedom that might be applied to painting. Joyce, with his mastery of all styles and his virtuosity in weaving them into a rich tapestry, was the exemplar that later gave me confidence to try some unlikely associations in paint. Each of the twelve chapters of Ulysses is treated differently ... None of the episodes is so complex as the ‘Oxen of the Sun’, in which the birth of a child in the Horne’s house, a lying-in hospital, is echoed in the text by the birth of language, and its historic progress, in a procession of English prose styles from Latinate incantation through Anglo-Saxon, Mandeville, Morte d’Arthur, Milton, Swift, Pater, etc. to the slang of 1906.
(Quoted in Collected Words, p.109).
Hamilton made several preparatory studies for the print in 1949. The first is a cubist-inspired series of lines and shaded areas made with ink and watercolour over a pencil grid. Hamilton dubbed it ‘a paraphrase of Cubism, which I later regarded as an unworthy solution as compared with the dauntless ambition of Joyce’s pyrotechnics’ (Collected Words, p.109). A second study, also drawn over a pencil grid, remained unfinished. When he returned to the project in 1981, Hamilton based all his subsequent studies on the composition established in this second image. It is thematically appropriate that the artist began his series of illustrations with the idea of birth, transposing Joyce’s notion of developing prose styles to the development of representational styles in visual art. The print shows a group of male figures around a circular table, evoking Joyce’s gathering of medical students around a spread of sardines and beer. In the background, a cloaked female figure appears behind an open door, suggesting a nun or, in the context of the story, a nurse. In his third study, Hamilton transposed the 1949 parody of Cubism to a small composition on the table representing the sardines and beer. A figure wearing a mask resembling an Easter Island head in the foreground of the print leads the viewer’s eye towards a seated figure shown in profile with an Ancient Egyptian physiognomy. To his right Hamilton drew Joyce’s character Stephen Dedalus standing as the romantic figure of the French painter Baron Gros (1771-1835) with Bloom opposite him, seated at the table, as the painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). A medieval Old Testament prophet from Bourges cathedral and the churchman Martin Luther (1483-1546) as he appears in a portrait by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) appeared among the drinkers in the third version of the print but were not retained. Hamilton replaced them with a youthful self-portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) in the fourth study. In the novel he wrote preceding Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (first published in 1916), Joyce used the character Steven Dedalus to describe the notion of the artist as ‘a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life’ (Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, London 1943, p.252). The figure of Dedalus appears in the centre of In Horne’s house where he dominates the image, gesturing dramatically and emphasizing Hamilton’s affirmation of the artist as creator. His upward pointing finger recalls moments of divine revelation – epiphanies – depicted in traditional religious paintings from the Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century.
Hamilton first worked with Aldo Crommelynck, the master printmaker based in Paris, in the early 1970s, in the creation of his etching Picasso’s meninas, 1973 (P07659) which also combines art historical styles from different periods. All of the seven etchings in Hamilton’s Ulysses project were executed with Commelynck. In Horne’s house was printed at Atelier Crommelynck, Paris, on Rives paper with seven stage proofs. It was produced in an edition of 120, plus twelve artist’s proofs, of which Tate’s copy is the ninety-seventh. It was distributed by Waddington Graphics, London.
Stephen Coppel, Richard Hamilton: Imaging James Joyce’s Ulysses, exhibition catalogue, Cankarjev Dom Galerija, Ljubljana 2001, pp.19 and 26-30, reproduced p.30.
Richard Hamilton: Prints 1939-83, Stuttgart and London 1984, p.81.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1953-1982, London 1982, p.109, reproduced p.108.