William Etty: Art and Controversy
25 June 2011 – 22 January 2012
William Etty was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the finest history painters that England had produced, but he slipped into obscurity after his death in 1849. Although he was a respected Royal Academician, Etty's paintings of voluptuous nudes drew harsh criticism from both the the artistic elite and the public. William Etty: Art and Controversy is the first major exhibition of the painter's work for over 50 years, and aims not only to restore his place alongside his contemporaries, but also to revisit the critical controversy that dogged him throughout his life.York Art Gallery has the largest collection of Etty's work in any public gallery, and this exhibition will include around 70 paintings, more than 1,000 sketches and drawings and a selection of the artist's letters and personal documents. On show will be not only Etty's contentious nudes and large-scale historical works, but also his lesser-known landscapes and portraits. The works themselves will be interspersed with contemporary excerpts from newspapers and journals critiquing Etty's work, inviting the viewer to enter into the debate.
Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth epitomises the problem that Etty represented for the Royal Academy Victorian Academy. Classical subjects were traditionally presented as an opportunity for austere and moral contemplation of history, but Etty uses the subject as the basis for a romanticised image of voyeuristic eroticism, celebrating the sensual physicality of its characters.Acquired in 2009 with the aid of the Art Fund, William Etty's Preparing for a Fancy Dress Ball showcases a rather different side to the artist. His portraits are predominately of friends and patrons, but this is an exception, commissioned by the wealthy MP Charles Watkin Williams-Wynn. It depicts two of his daughters dressing for a ball, and follows in the tradition of images showing Venus at her toilette. Their costumes are elaborate and fashionably Italianate, reflecting the vogue for both Italian opera and Shakespeare. The painting gains its charm from the lively glance of Charlotte toward the viewer, seemingly interrupted in the final stages of the evening's preparations.Related storiesDetails of the museums and galleries that house William Etty's works.The History of York website gives biographical background for Etty, and explains his relationship to the city.YouTube video gallery of Etty's paintings.Culture24 2009 news article about York acquiring a £120,000 Etty painting (with aid from the Art Fund)