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Artist Spotlight: William Etty

Artist Spotlight: William Etty

The self-portrait of William Etty (1787-1849) at left shows a sandy-ginger-haired man with a sensuous mouth and foxy, almost feminine eyes. He was a shy man and remained a bachelor all his life, which at the time was practically a statement. He was a successful Royal Academy artist and a contemporary of Constable and Turner. His work fell out of favor after his death. But while he was an active painter he was both admired and condemned for his detailed renderings of the naked human body.

Critics felt he focused too much on the female buttocks, but if you Google Image search for his work, you find a surprisingly large number of male nudes, many with a focus on the male buttocks as well. Seems none of his contemporaries were interested in commenting on that.

As usual, there is no confirming sexual orientation of people long dead from a time when no one really identified as gay, so we let the paintings speak for themselves.

Of special interest is the grand work that Etty considered his greatest achievement, The Sirens and Ulysses. (See the last page of this article.) The Manchester Gallery in England has restored the large canvas, which had been in storage for almost 200 years. On its website the gallery states, "The subject of the Sirens, from Homer’s Odyssey, was probably suggested by a friend. It fitted Etty’s artistic purpose perfectly. He wrote: ‘My aim in all my great pictures has been to paint some great moral on the heart … the importance of resisting SENSUAL DELIGHTS’. He researched the picture thoroughly, even studying corpses for the figures of the dead sailors.

Click the gallery link to read more about Etty and the fascinating project of restoring this large canvas.

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This study is a classic example of the flexed and richly shaded buttocks for which Etty was noted.


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