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William Etty – Paintings

Below is an article that covers the paintings by William Etty, a famous history painter in the early Victorian era. He was the first ever British artist to paint nudes and still life images. He was also highly acclaimed and recognized for his excellence in displaying flesh in paintings with such detailing and genuine color tones. Let us discuss his works below.

Significant paintings by William Etty

Musidora: The Bather 'At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed'
Musidora: The Bather ‘At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed’, by William Etty

Musidora: The Bather ‘At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed’

It was one of the four Musidora paintings by William Etty. The painting is an excellent oil on canvas painting showing a scenario of many words. It is inspired by the 1727 poem by  James Thomson – Summer. The poem is about a young man that accidentally happens to watch a woman while she is bathing by the lake.

The poem speaks about the various emotions in the man that are a shame and guilt of watching and ethically ignoring the scene and moving on. The painting was exhibited in the last years of the painters life.

The scene depicts a summer morning atmosphere. In 1843, this painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The best version is now in the Tate Gallery in Britain and before that it hung in the British Institution since 1846.

In the year 2001, the oainting was exhibited again at the Victorian Nude Exhibition in the Tate Gallery which is now called the Tate Britain.

Youth on the Prow, and Pleasure at the Helm

‘Youth on the Prow, and Pleasure at the Helm’ by William Etty

It is a famous oil on canvas work by William Etty. Its dimensions are 1587 x 1175 mm. It is based on the poem by Thomas Gray – ‘The Bard’ that came out in 1757. It was a time of the fascination of the Romantic generation. The painting was first exhibited in the year 1832 and today is in the famous Tate Gallery.

It depicts an evening atmosphere with a boat that is filled and surrounded by young nude people. Through this painting he tried to portray the pursuit of pleasure as a warning. However, not much acclamation was given at the time. The painting is excellent with colours and the depiction of flesh along with high detailing of the sober colours.

The painting received a massively mixed review. Many critics applauded the work and recommended it to buyers. Etty himself called it ‘an allegory of human life’. However, a lot of critics also argued that the work contains unnecessary nude figures which has made the painting tasteless and offensive in wide terms.

According to Etty, the youth displayed in the painting are snatching the ‘bubbles of pleasure’ even though it seems like there is a whirlwind.

The lines that the painting illustrate are as follows,

Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
While proudly riding o’er the azure realm,
In gallant trim, the gilded vessel goes,
Youth on the prow and Pleasure at the helm,
Unmindful of the sweeping whirlwind’s sway,
That, hushed in grim repose, expects his evening prey

– The Bard by Thomas Gray.

The painting was purchased by Robert Vernon, an English contractor and businessman who was also an art worshipper. He bought the painting in 1832 and kept it in his private collection before donating it to the National Gallery in 1847. From there it was transferred to the Tate Britain in 1949.

Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed

‘Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed’ by William Etty

The painting is a Neo Classical history based scenario of a Lydian King, his wife, and minister. It so happens that Candaules – the King of Lydia has close associations with his one of his ministers called Gyges. Gyges was once allowed to watch while the Queen undresses herself. This was to prove to Gyges how beautiful the Queen was. When she found out, she was furious.

She asked Gyges to either undergo execution or kill the king. He chose to kill the Candaules and become king himself. He later married the Queen.

The paintig depicts a mixed emotion of lust and vengeance. The use of colour and texture is used in an excellent way to depict the lust element in the painting and the attractiveness of the body. Etty hoped that the painting would give out the message that women are not objectifying items and anybody that thinks so must be justly punished. But the audience did not receive the painting as well as he thought they would.

It became a matter of controversial issues being printing in magazines like the Art Journal. The painting was finally bought by Robert Vernon when Etty exhibited it in 1847. Today it lies in the Tate Britain.

Venus and Cupid

Venus and Cupid, by William Etty
‘Venus and Cupid’ by William Etty

It is an oil on canvas painting of measurements 31.7 cm x 44.4 cm. It was purchased by a private collector in the year 1911. The painting can be considered a mythological work. The Venus is the Roman God of War and the Cupid is an ancient Roman God of Love. The painting can also be themed a Romantic work by William Etty and an expression of classism.

The Romantic mythology suggests that the Roman Gods Venus and Mars had an affair out of which the Cupid was born, a result of love. The painting shows a mother Venus and the child cupid. The detailing of the painting is appreciated by many critics.

They both dwell in a cavern in the painting. The scene depicts a gloomy pre monsoon atmosphere. Etty suggested that the painting stands for affection between a mother and her young one.

The Wrestlers

‘The Wrestlers’ by William Etty in 1840

It is an oil on canvas painting by William Etty. The measurements of the painting are 68.5 x 53.3 cm. It was painted in 1840 and is currentily at the York Art Gallery  in York. The painting is a depiction of a live wrestle match between a white man and a black man.

The painting emphasizes on the colour scheme used in the depiction of flesh. Not only is the lighting excellent showing flesh but also the muscles of the strong men depicted in the painting. This painting was used to teach at the Royal Academy, how live action art is made.

The painting was a bold move in discussions of the race movements in England. It was a change of subject in Ettys paintings as he was mostly painting neo classical and Romantic paintings while this one is a painting of 18th century English men.