Pandora Crowned by the Seasons
(1824). Following the success of Cleopatra
, Etty tried to replicate its success with further history paintings containing nude figures.
William Etty was born in 1787, the son of a York baker and miller. He began as an apprentice printer in Hull. On completing his seven-year apprenticeship he moved at the age of 18 to London "with a few pieces of chalk crayons", with the intention of becoming a history painter in the tradition of the Old Masters. He enrolled at the Royal Academy, and after a year spent studying under renowned portrait painter Thomas Lawrence, Etty returned to the Royal Academy, drawing at the life class and copying other paintings. A follower of John Opie, who promoted the unfashionable painting style of Titian and Rubens over the then-prevalent formal style of Joshua Reynolds, Etty was unsuccessful in all the Academy's competitions and every work he submitted to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in the 1810s was rejected. In 1821 the Royal Academy accepted and exhibited one of Etty's works in the Summer Exhibition, The Arrival of Cleopatra in Cilicia (also known as The Triumph of Cleopatra). This painting was extremely well received, and many of Etty's fellow artists greatly admired him. He became well respected for his ability to capture flesh tones accurately in painting, and for his fascination with contrasts in skin tones. Following the exhibition of Cleopatra, over the next decade Etty tried to replicate its success by painting nude figures in biblical, literary and mythological settings.
While some nudes by foreign artists were held in private English collections, the country had no tradition of nude painting and the display and distribution of nude material to the public had been suppressed since the 1787 Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice. Etty was the first British artist to specialise in the nude, and the reaction of the lower classes to these paintings caused concern throughout the 19th century. Many critics condemned his repeated depictions of female nudity as indecent, although his portraits of male nudes were generally well received.[A]