And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 10. oktober 2011

Unbridled Imagination

There is much unbridled imagination - much fine, free drawing, and much good colouring, in this singular sketch. Such scenes are not, however, of this world, nor for people who are in it, and where one will feel the poetry of the work, a thousand will reckon it ridiculous.
- Review of "Destroying Angels and Daemons inflicting Divine Vengeance on the Wicked and Intemperate" in The Athenaeum 2 June 1832

And so I would not Etty be,
To shock my Prince's modesty.
- A Painter's Wish, Paul Pindar, published in Punch and Judy vol. 8, 1845

As the above quotes illustrate William Etty (1787-1849) was a prominent public figure, subject to praise and panegyrics alike and not afraid to cause controversy. His paintings featured nude figures, male and female, inspired by the works of Titian and Peter Paul Rubens and attempting to bring their subject-matter into an age whose inhabitants were not always quite ready to appreciate it. It was not, however, the mere nudity itself that evoked censure from the critics, for, as stated in the previous blogpost, he received, from time to time, lavish praise for his works and several aspects of his compositions were treated very cordially by critics. The problem was in most cases how the nudes eyed the audience or other figures on the canvas, how licentious their postures were and how strong were the sexual overtones. It was this that enraged his contemporaries and a prime example is his rendition of the Lydian king Candaules who, according to Herodotus, allowed his minister Gyges to watch his queen undress, a subject so frivolous in its very nature that it shocked the sensitivity of art-lovers.
We reprobate both the subject and the execution of this production.
- From The Morning Post, 1 June 1830

On other occasions his portrayal of females and perhaps particularly female virility - to indulge in an oxymoronic pun - met with applause, as when he illustrated a scene from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. The image of the female knight Britomart salvaging the fair Amoret from the vicious wizard Busirane extracted the following panegyric from a critic of the Literary Gazette, 11 May 1833:

Grace and beauty in the female form, spirited action in the knight, and the fiend-like expression in the magician, unite with the splendid depth of effect produced by the architecture to render this, nothwithstanding a slight tendency to blackness in some of the half-tints, one of Mr. Etty's "gem's of art".

Ne liuing wight she saw in all that roome,
Saue that same woefull Ladie, both whose hands
Were bounden fast, that did her ill become,
And her small wast girt round with yron bands,
Vnto a brasen pillour, by the which she stands.
- The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser

William Etty moved to London in his twenties to pursue his vocation as a painter but he retained a strong affection for his native city of York. Thanks to his energic campaign he saved much of York's architectural heritage, including the city walls and particularly York Minster which might, had it not been for Etty, have been radically altered in its design during the restoration after two fires in 1829 and 1840 respectively.

  York Minster seen from the very walls Etty saved from demolition.

The City of York from very early on cherished their prodigal and already in 1829 Etty was made an honorary member of Yorkshire Philosophical Society in gratitude of his endeavours. He was persuaded by the Society to give a public address concerning the education of artists in 1838 and as a consequence the York School of Design opened in 1842.

Upon his retirement to York in 1848 William Etty settled in a house on Coney Street next to St. Martin's Church, today the location of York City Screen. According to himself he relished his new situation thoroughly, but he was only to enjoy it for less than a year and a half as he died in November 1849.

St. Martin's Church.

 View towards the Ouse, a spectacle William Etty was very fond of.

William Etty's dying wish was to be buried in York Minster, the church he so dearly loved and whose Medieval design he had saved from contemporary whims. Sadly the proper funds could not be raised for this to be arranged, a sad irony considering Etty's own fundraising for the rebuilding of the Minster. Instead his body was carried in a hearse from Coney Street to Galmanho where he was interred at St. Olave's Church and the city mourned its loss. Today there is a stained glass window in St. Olave's portraying William Etty.

Wonderful! Wonderful! This death!
- William Etty's dying words, November 13 1849

The City of York has not forgotten William Etty and this year he is honoured by an exhibition at York Art Gallery. Outside the gallery a statue of Etty is situated, looking towards Bootham Bar and York Minster beyond it. At his right leg is a miniature of Bootham Bar, an unostentatious homage to Etty's endeavour to save it. 

The statue was made by George Milburn, a local sculptor, and presented to the public in 1911, the same year as an exhibition of Etty's work.

A less opulent memorial of Etty's life and work is found at the place where it started, at No. 20 Feasegate where young William would draw figures on the floor tiles of his father's bakery. The memorial in question is a little plaque in the Bhs shop currently occupying the space, but I was myself unable to find it.

Although William Etty was greatly influenced by Venetian masters, Peter Paul Rubens, the lectures of John Opie and Henry Fuseli, he certainly had his debt to growing up in York as well and Etty knew it. He spoke of York Minster as his bride and already as a child he would stand outside the bookshop of No. 35 Stonegate, "entranced" by the prints behind the window and sketch them, nurturing his unbridled imagination that would in ages thence split public opinion and harvest praise and protest alike.

John Todd's bookshop, one of William Etty's muses.

Ingen kommentarer:

Legg inn en kommentar