(10 March 1787 - 13 November 1849)
William Etty, R. A. Served an apprenticeship to a printer in Hull, moving to London in 1806, when a pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence, entering the schools of the Academy the following year. His pictures were rejected for many reasons; his first exhibited work, "Telemachus and Antiope," appearing at the Royal Academy in 1811; and his second, "The C
oral-Finders," in 1820. In 1822, he visited Italy, studying in Venice, and being elected a member of the Academy there. He returned to London in 1824, when he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, exhibiting "Pandora crowned by the Seasons." He was made an Academician in 1828. Among his works the following were deemed the best by Etty himself:
"Etty was in every respect one of the most distinguished painters of the English school, but more especially as a colorist, if not surpassing, at least equaling his great models, Titian and Paul Veronese. His drawing was too often affected and mannered, but it too was occasionally tasteful, correct, and even grand. To speak of Etty as purely a colorist, not as a painter, it is scarcely saying too much to affirm that he has produced the most exquisite gems of modern art, as in the 'Imprudence of Candaules' and some other specimens in the Vernon Collection." -- Wornum's Epochs of Painting.[Artists of the Nineteenth Century & their Work; Biographical Sketches, Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, 1879.]
The eminent painter was born at York, March 10,1787. "Like Rembrandt and Constable," writes Etty, in an autobiography published in the Art Journal in 1849, "my father also was a miller." In 1798 he was apprenticed to Robert Peck, a letter-press printer at Hull, as a compositor, "to which business," he says, "I served seven full years faithfully and truly, and worked at it three weeks as journeyman; but I had such a busy desire to be a painter, that the last years of my servitude dragged on most heavily. I counted the years, days, weeks, and hours, till liberty should break my chains and set my struggling spirit free." In 1806, he was invited to London by his uncle, William Etty, of the firm of Bodley, Etty, and Bodley, of Lombard Street. William Etty was himself "a beautiful draughtsman in pen and ink," and saw promise in the crude performances of his young kinsman, and besides helping him during life, left him a sufficient sum after his death to enable him to pursue his studies. Arrived in town, he tells us: -- "I drew from prints or from nature, or from anything I could; I was made at home at my uncle's, I was furnished with cash by my brother. My first academy was in a plaster-cast shop, kept by Gianelli, in that lane near to Smithfield, immortalised by Dr. Johnson's visit to see 'The Ghost' there." He soon received a letter of introduction to Opie, who introduced him to Fuseli, by whom he was admitted as a probationer in Somerset House. He entered the schools of the Royal Academy in the same week as Collins; and Hilton and Haydon were amongst his fellow-students. By his uncle's generosity, who paid one hundred guineas for him, Etty, in July, 1808, became an in-door pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence, then residing in Greek Street, Soho. Lawrence frequently employed him to make copies of his portraits, but had little leisure to give substantial assistance to his pupil in his studies. When his year of study under Lawrence was expired, Etty painted from nature, and copied the old masters in the British Gallery: this, he says, he found easy, after copying Lawrence. He was also a constant student in the Life School of the Royal Academy, where his industry was indefatigable, yet he never gained a medal. He ventured at one time to send six pictures to the Academy exhibition, but all were rejected; this happened year after year at the Academy, and at the British Gallery, but by discovering his defects, and by great industry in endeavouring to correct them, he at last conquered his bad fortune. In 1811, he was comforted by finding one of his pictures, 'Telemachus rescuing Antiope,' hung at the Royal Academy, and from that time forward he always obtained an entrance for some of his works at the Academy or the British Institution. He painted portraits also at this time, but chiefly occupied himself on classical subjects. In 1816, he visited Paris and Florence, but returned home in less than three months. In 1822, he went to Italy, visiting Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples, but it was in Venice that he found the greatest attractions: -- "Venice, the birth-place and cradle of colour, the hope and idol of my professional life." He studied in the academy there, and was elected one of its honorary members. He returned to London early in 1824, and in the same year exhibited 'Pandora formed by Vulcan, and crowned by the Seasons,' which was bought by Lawrence, and secured his election as an Associate of the Royal Academy. He became an Academician in 1828, and it was then suggested to him that he should discontinue his practice in the Life School, where he had been accustomed for years to attend every evening during the session to paint studies in oil from the living models, as it was considered incompatible with the dignity of an Academician to continue to take his place amongst the students; but he said he would rather decline the honour of membership than give up his studies. He resided in London from 1826 till 1848, when, owing to failing health, he retired to his native city York, where he died November 13, 1849. An exhibition of Etty's works was held in the summer of 1849, at the Society of Arts, and his Life by Alexander Gilchrist was published in 1855. In his autobiography Etty has himself pointed out what he considered his greatest works. "My aim in all my great pictures has been to paint some great moral on the heart: 'The Combat,' the beauty of mercy; the three 'Judith' pictures, patriotism, and self-devotion to her country, her people, and her God; 'Benaiah, David's chief captain,' valour ; 'Ulysses and the Syrens,' the importance of resisting sensual delights, or an Homeric paraphrase on the 'Wages of Sin is Death'; the three pictures of 'Joan of Arc,' Religion, Valour, Loyalty and Patriotism, like the modern Judith; these, in all, make nine colossal pictures, as it was my desire to paint three times three." Besides the above-mentioned the following are his principal works:
William Etty was born on 10th March, 1787 at No. 20 Feasegate, York, to Matthew and Esther Etty. He was educated at Bedern in York, and at Mr Hall's Academy in Pocklington. In 1798 and in accordance with the wishes of his father, Etty served seven years of apprenticeship to a printer in Hull. He was, however, enabled to pursue 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 as a probationer, studying under Henry Fuseli, and he also studied privately for a year under Sir Thomas Lawrence, whose influence for some time dominated his art. In 1808 he entered the Royal Academy as a student.
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.
In 1822, Etty set off for Italy, travelling through France and Switzerland. He studied in Venice and in 1823, he was made Honorary Academician of the Venetian Academy. On his return to England in 1824, his "Pandora Crowned by the Seasons" was much applauded, and in 1828, he was made a member of the Royal Academy. Some of his early work, particularly his depiction of the female nude was regarded as controversial but Etty became an influential and respected British artist. In 1842, The Government School of Design opened in York with his help.
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 City 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 of Paris."
There is a life-size sculpture of Etty which stands in front of the York Art Gallery in his home town. Carved in Portland stone, it was sculpted by the local sculptor George Milburn, and unveiled to the public on 20 February 1911. "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. In addition to his art, Etty is known for his involvement in a campaign to prevent the demolition of Clifford's Tower and York city walls in 1825.
Etty is also represented in one of the four roundels above York Art Gallery's entrance. The other roundels contain other famous York artists: John Carr (1723–1807, architect), John Camidge (1734–1803, musician), and John Flaxman (1787–1849, painter).
Todd's bookshop at No. 35 Stonegate, owned by John Todd, was one of York's most prestigious bookshops. Etty described how he "would stand entranced and sketch" the prints displayed in the shop's windows.
Etty's Coney Street house, now next to City Screen, is where the artist lived in retirement from June 1848 until his death in November 1849.
His grave is in St. Olave's Cemetery, Marygate, and inside the church, on the left as you enter, is a stained glass window in memory of Etty.[Life of William Etty, Alexander Gilchrist, London, 1855; Dictionary of National Biography, William Cosmo Monkhouse, London, 1889; en.Wikipedia]
William Etty, (born March 10, 1787, York, Yorkshire, England -- died Nov. 13, 1849, York), one of the last of the English academic history painters.
In 1807, he was admitted to the Royal Academy schools, and by 1818, he had developed considerable talent as a portraitist. The grand but simply conceived “Combat” (1825), brought him his first great success. During the last decade of his life, bad health, economic pressure, and unenlightened patronage forced him to concentrate on minor pieces that sold easily. His nude studies, which date from this period, are still admired.[Encyclopædia Britannica]