“Finding God’s most glorious work to be Woman, that all human beauty had been concentrated in her, I resolved to dedicate myself to painting . . . God’s most glorious work, more finely than ever had been done”
William Etty is best known for his sensuous depictions of the female nude, in epic settings from literature, classical mythology and the Bible. He was a controversial figure, celebrated by some for his noble fulfilment of artistic ideals and condemned by others as indecent.
Etty was born in York in 1787, the son of a baker. He was apprenticed at the age of 11 to a printer in Hull, but in 1805 moved to London to pursue a career as an artist. He enrolled at the Royal Academy and was apprenticed to Sir Thomas Lawrence, eminent portrait painter and Royal Academy President.
He travelled widely through Europe during the early 1820s, and was heavily influenced by the work of artists such as Rubens and Titian. He was made a full RA member in 1828 and remained a strong supporter of the Royal Academy all his life.
A shy man, with sandy-coloured hair and a face marked with smallpox scars, Etty remained a bachelor all his life. Although based in London for most of his career, he returned to his native York before his death in 1849.
After his death, Etty’s work fell out of fashion and he didn’t achieve the fame of contemporaries such as Turner and Constable. However, he is still remembered for his contribution to the Royal Academy ‘grand style’ of painting and for introducing a lively European-influenced sense of colour into British art.