William Etty (1787-1849)
William Etty, born in York in 1787, is the city's most famous artist and was the first major British painter to specialise in the nude before the 20th century.
Etty was the seventh child of a miller and baker, and he would often draw in chalk on his father's shop floor. In 1798 he was apprenticed to a printer in Hull, but in 1805 an uncle paid for him to go to London and to enter the Royal Academy Schools in 1807. He studied under Henry Fuseli, and he also studied privately for a year under Sir Thomas Lawrence, whose influence for some time dominated his art.
Etty 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 color for which his works are chiefly known.
On his return to England in 1824, his "Pandora Crowned by the Seasons" was much applauded, and in 1825 he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, defeating Constable by eighteen votes to five. From this time he was very successful, despite being criticised in the press for indecency. He lived in London until 1848, but on account of failing health he retired to York, where he died the following year.
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 sometimes lacks life and originality. He often endeavored to inculcate moral lessons by his pictures.
York Art Gallery has the largest collection of his work, including 78 paintings, more than 1,000 sketches and drawings, plus letters and other papers. There are also several works by Etty in Leeds Art Gallery.