Descendant of York’s Most Famous Artist Visits York Art Gallery

28/12/2023

Shannon Reed (she/her) reports on the visit from Randy Etty, descendant of William Etty

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Image by Anthony Chappel-Ross

By Shannon Reed

Randy Etty, a Dutch artist, travelled from his Netherlands home in December to explore the Gallery’s collection of his ancestor’s works – those of the painter William Etty. Following a cordial invitation from the Friends of York Art Gallery, Etty and his family enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the artist’s paintings and drawings, led by the Gallery’s Senior Curator and resident Etty expert, Dr Beatrice Bertram. The family also paid their respects to their relative, whose tomb is in the cemetery of St Olave’s Church set within the nearby Museum Gardens.

William Etty was an English artist, born in York, and became widely known for his paintings of nude figures. Regarded as the first significant painter of nudes in Britain, Etty remained dedicated throughout his life to depicting the human form, attending life drawing classes long after his artistic training had finished. To his contemporaries, Etty would become renowned for his technical skill in creating life-like flesh tints and in capturing the depth of the human form. The Arrival of Cleopatra in Cilicia, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1821, was the first painting of Etty’s to receive national acclaim with critics describing the painting to as belonging to the ‘highest class’ of art. This success at the Royal Academy led the artist to create many mythological works in the following years, establishing Etty as one of the most significant historical painters of Britain in the nineteenth century.

Despite his contemporary acclaim, Sotheby’s describes William Etty’s works to have “divided both public and critical opinion more vehemently” than “perhaps no other British artist in the first half of the nineteenth century.” The critique of his works has been widely documented to depend upon the sex of his muse, with his male nudes escaping the sharp criticism of immorality that his female nudes often received.

The York Art Gallery hosts the world’s largest collection of William Etty’s artworks and ephemera in the world, with general admission being free of charge.