William Etty 1787 – 1849

William Etty 1787 – 1849 was an English painter, best known for his paintings of nudes.

Joseph Severn was a ‘mutual friend‘ of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin and Thomas Uwins. Joseph Severn painted the famous portrait of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin, Richard Westmacott and William Etty playing cards in Naples in 1823.

William Etty 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 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 Edward Bligh 5th Earl of Darnley, who then commissioned Etty to paint his The Judgement of Paris.

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.

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