L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Figure studies by William Etty

William Etty (10 March 1787, York – 13 November 1849, York), English painter, best known for his paintings of nudes. Not very much remembered today, he was one of the few nineteenth-century English painters to paint classical subjects successfully.

From the age of eleven, in accordance with his father's wishes, he apprenticed with a printer for seven years. But at nineteen, through the generosity of an uncle he was able to go to London to study painting. The following year he entered the Royal Academy School, where he studied under Henry Fuseli and, privately, with Sir Thomas Lawrence. 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 later traveled to Paris, Switzerland, and Italy, furthering his study; he spent much time in Venice. Though a high-minded bachelor with a pristine private life, much of his work, particularly his depiction of the female nude - writhing, fleshy, and frankly sensual - was very controversial in his day. There was much negative and disapproving comment in the press; in refusing the call to clothe his figures, he responded to his critics with the phrase: "To the pure in heart, all things are pure." Still, he had many supporters, and in 1828 he was made a member of the Royal Academy. At the height of his career, he was best known for his large, ambitious multi-figure compositions. But during the last decade of his life, ill-health and economic pressure forced him to concentrate on minor pieces that might sell more easily. He died at the age of sixty-two.

"Guardsman Higgins", 1830.  Men of the London-based Guards regiments commonly posed for artists as a means of supplementing their
low wages. Strict height regulations were imposed on the Guards, with a minimum height of 5' 9" in a period where the average height
for a man was about 5' 4 in", and they were young and physically fit. This made them excellent models for life drawing. Some went so
far as to prostitute themselves for extra money, and could be found by male clients in particular London taverns.


These vigorous studies are an example of Etty's almost obsessive recording of the human form.  Though he's best known for his female nudes, there exists a large body of his male nudes.  Most if not all of the images here were a product of his prolonged attendance in the Life School at the Royal Academy.  Some may be preparatory sketches for finished work, but all have a great freedom of brushwork and frankness of gesture, since they were never meant for exhibition.  In these rapidly executed paintings, there is great range of finish, but I love the consistency in modeling and color; almost all of them have some great swathe of red that beautifully complements the vivid flesh tones.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing all of these, Etty is actually a favorite of mine. There is something of great spirit about his work that I always have appreciated.