William Etty (1787-1849)

Portrait sculpture of Etty, in York.

The painter William Etty was born in York, and became an apprentice in a printing works, where he remained for seven years. Then, aged 19, with financial help from relatives, he was able to study art in London. He became a student at the Royal Academy Schools in 1807, and worked for Thomas Lawrence (his uncle paid out 100 guineas for that) for a year. However, after all this, his submissions to the Academy Exhibitions were consistently rejected. Perseverence brought success in the early 1820s, whe after a trip to Italy (1822-4), his first picture Pandora Crowned by the Seasons (1824) was not only exhibited, but gained him an ARA. The picture was bought by his old tutor, now Sir Thomas Lawrence, PRA. Thereafter Etty exhibited prolifically at the Royal Academy, showing some 136 paintings in total, and building a reputation as a figure painter specialising in the nude. He became RA in 1828. He reached his peak year at the end of his life, when he had an exhibition of 130 works at the Society of Artists in 1849.

Etty had a close follower in the painter W. E. Frost.

The pictures by Etty at the Tate Gallery include the above-mentioned Pandora Crowned by the Seasons, the well-known Youth on the Prow and Pleasure at the Helm and The Bather 'at the doubtful breeze alarmed'. A collection of the artist's works may also be seen in the gallery in York, including a good example of his portrait style, Mme Rachel (1858). His sensuous nudes may be seen in various collections - there are a couple of particularly good small ones in the Russell Cotes Museum, Bournemouth. The Storm (1829-30), showing a couple clinging to each other in a lifeboat, is at Manchester. A cherubic Cupid and Psyche is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some of his best works are reckoned to be those in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, though I have not seen these.

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