Artist biography

English painter. Financial support from his uncle allowed him to go to London in 1805, where he entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1806. Following the death of his uncle in 1809 he became financially secure. From 1811 he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the British Institution..

His success was due to large history paintings. He was one of the few British artists to make a career out of this genre. The Classical or biblical subject-matter of the history works gave Etty the ideal pretext for painting the nude. He did, however, believe that they had a serious purpose and proclaimed that his intention in all his major paintings had been ‘to paint some great moral on the heart'.

During the 1830s and 1840s Etty generally concentrated on smaller, less ambitious works. In this he catered to the market, to the point that, in his later years, he risked being accused of selling out to the dealers.

Throughout his career Etty painted portraits. In his later years he also produced such landscape paintings. At their best his spontaneous oil sketches of landscape bear comparison with Constable's.

Etty is the only major British painter before the 20th century to have devoted his career to the nude. Remarkably, his public recognition and success were achieved in the face of vitriolic censure from a press that accused him of indecency. Though famous and financially successful in his day, his reputation declined after his death and has never fully recovered.

A. Gilchrist: Life of William Etty, 2 vols (London, 1855/R in 1 vol., East Ardsley, 1978)
W. Camidge: The Poet-Painter of York: William Etty (York, 1899)
W. Gaunt and F. G. Roe: Etty and the Nude (Leigh-on-Sea, 1943)
J. M. Biggins: Etty and York (York, 1949)
William Etty (exh. cat. by D. Farr, ACGB, 1955, rev. with suppl. 1955)
D. Farr: William Etty (London, 1958)
B. J. Bailey: William Etty's Nudes (Pulloxhill, Bedford, 1974)
G. C. Curr: ‘Who Saved York Walls?: The Roles of William Etty and the Corporation of York', York Historian, v (1984), pp. 25–38
The Artist's Model: Its Role in British Art from Lely to Etty (exh. cat., ed. M. Postle and J. Wright; U. Nottingham, A.G., 1991)


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