After graduating with honours in Practical Engineering from Trinity College, Dublin in 1850, Hone worked for three years as an engineer on the Midland Great Western Railway. In 1853 he left for Paris to study art and entered the studio of Yvon. The next year he moved to the atelier of Thomas Courture where he met Manet. In 1857 Hone moved to Barbizon, a village just seven miles from the station at Fontainbleau where he began his career as a landscape painter. While there he met Corot and Courbet on their trips to Fontainbleau. For the next fifteen years Hone remained painting in France and Italy and exhibited at the Paris salon, the Royal Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy. He, like most of the other Barbizon artists, was influenced by Corot although some of his forest paintings have a similar dark impastoed quality to Courbet's work.
Boating on the River was most probably painted while the artist was in France and it could be one of the many paintings he produced during the 1860s from the banks of the Seine. Hone returned to Ireland in 1872 and married Magdalen Jameson in the same year. They set up home and a studio in Seafield, Malahide on the coast in North Co. Dublin. Cattle in a landscape (lot 27) is probably painted at Malahide and is an example of one of his many pasture paintings of the 1890s. A larger version Pastures at Malahide was presented to the National Gallery of Ireland by the artist in 1907. Whereas Corot settled on misty still-water landscapes with lone figures in punts and poplar trees, Hone's greatest works are those painted around Malahide with heavy cattle resting or grazing in rich pastures under a cloudy coastal sky. From their home in Malahide the Hones travelled widely around continental Europe and in 1891 they made an extended tour of the Mediterranean and the East visiting Luxor and Cairo in the spring of 1892. Hone continued to exhibit in London, Dublin and New York right up to his death in 1917. The next year Madgalen bequeathed 550 oils, 887 watercolours and 17 studies to the National Gallery of Ireland. Hone's influence on Irish painters during the last quarter of the 19th Century was immense, by his example, in the 1880s many young artists followed him to Paris and Brittany. He was very much a member of the Barbizon School and through his teaching he even affected the landscapes of established artists such as Walter Osborne and Dermod O'Brien.