Tuesday, 10 March 2015

'God's most glorious work'

Any excuse for a saucy picture here - and this one is a characteristic nude study by William Etty, born in York on this day in 1787. He painted a wide range of mythological and historical subjects, but, not surprisingly, it was his voluptuous nudes, which showed off his great skill in painting flesh tones, that made the most impact. Unlike the classical nudes of his time, who appear to be formed of cold marble, Etty's are unmistakably of warm, living flesh, and shaped like real women rather than ideal forms. As the Victorian era got under way, these nudes inevitably sparked controversy, The Times judging Etty's work in this line 'entirely too luscious for the public eye', while other voices urged him to 'turn from his wicked ways'. Etty's defence was simple: 'Finding God's most glorious work to be Woman, that all human beauty had been concentrated in her, I dedicated myself to painting - not the Draper's or Milliner's work - but God's most glorious work, more finely than ever had been done.' He got away with it, dying rich and respectable, albeit largely on the strength of his ambitious but inferior historical-mythological works. But it is for his nudes that he is remembered. There are many more online if you fancy a little high-class early Victorian erotica...

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