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William Etty (10 March 1787 – 13 November 1849) was an English
painter, best known for his paintings of nudes.
He was born at York. In accordance with the wishes of his father he
served seven years of apprenticeship to a printer of Hull. He was,
however, enabled to prosecute his studies in painting through the
generosity of his uncle, William Etty, who in 1806 invited him to
London. In 1807 he entered the Royal Academy School, studying under
Henry Fuseli, and he also studied privately for a year under Sir
Thomas Lawrence, whose influence for some time dominated his art.
He copied a great deal from the old masters in the National Gallery
and was a constant student in the Life School of the Academy, even
after he had become an Academician. He paid a brief visit to Paris
and Florence in 1816, and in 1822 he took a longer journey to Italy,
spending most of his time in Venice. From his studies of the
Venetian masters he acquired that excellence in colour for which his
works are chiefly known.
His works are exhibited extensively in major British galleries. On
his return to England in 1824, his "Pandora Crowned by the Seasons"
was much applauded, and he was made a member of the National Academy
in 1828. From this time he was very successful and attained a good
competence. He resided in London until 1848, but on account of
failing health he retired to York, where he died.
Etty painted very
unequally. His work at its best possesses great charm of colour,
especially in the glowing, but thoroughly realistic, flesh tints.
The composition is good, but his drawing is sometimes faulty, and
his work usually lacks life and originality. He often endeavoured to
inculcate moral lessons by his pictures. He himself considered his
best works to be "The Combat," the three "Judith" pictures, "Beniah,
David's Chief Captain" (all in the National Gallery of Scotland,
Edinburgh, "Ulysses and the Sirens" (Manchester Gallery), and the
three pictures of Joan of Arc. He is also represented in the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and in English provincial
museums; the Metropolitan Museum, New York owns his "The Three
Graces," considered by many his masterpiece.
"The Combat" was a
large painting, over 10 feet in height and 13 feet in breadth. No
buyer would purchase it until Etty's fellow painter John Martin
acquired it for ₤300. Hung in Martin's studio, it was seen there by
Lord Darnley, who then commissioned Etty to paint his "The Judgement
A statue of Etty,
erected in 1911, stands in front of the York Art Gallery in his home
town. Yet "He remains a neglected and underrated artist, one of the
few nineteenth-century painters to paint classical subjects
successfully." Etty had only one English follower in the practice of
painting the nude, in William Edward Frost.
William Etty the
painter should not be confused with William Etty the architect (c.
1675 - 1734); the latter was the architect of Holy Trinity Church in
Sunderland (1719) and many other churches.