Friday, September 3, 2010
William Etty - Phaedria and Cymochles on the Idle Lake
Price Realized £20,315
oil on canvas, painted arch
23 x 21 in. (58.4 x 78.8 cm.)
'Mr Etty has a Style of his own' (Charles M. Westmacott)
William Etty (1787-1849), who was born in York, was one of the most celebrated painters of the British School in the first half of the nineteenth century. His work, which was primarily focused upon the 'Classical' subject of the nude and mythological and historical scenes dominated by the nude figure, was both admired and criticised for its sensuality.
Etty moved to London in 1805, helped by the generosity of an uncle, where he entered the Royal Academy Schools, benefitting in particular from attending Life School, which he continued to do long after his formal student days were over. He spent a year in the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1807-8) which helped the development of his own technique and also made him more aware of the the work of the old Masters and his art was later greatly influenced by his experience of Italy, which he first visited in 1816 and later travelled to again on an extended grand Tour from 1822-4, of which five months was spent in Venice. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution from 1811 but his career only really took off when he exhibited his The Coral Finder: Venus and Her Youthful Satellites Arriving at the Island of Paphos, at the Royal Academy in 1820, which won him considerable praise and also new and important patrons. His Pandora crowned by the Seasons, exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1824, was acquired by Sir Thomas Lawrence, then the President of the Royal Academy, for 300 gns. Etty was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1824 and a full Academician in 1828 and his diploma picture Sleeping Nymph with Satyrs, is characteristic of the qualities that were most admired in his work with its powerful female nude and colouring echoing the work of Titian.
The Forbes Magazine collection includes a number of works by Etty. Most dramatic is his Phaedria and Cymochles on the Idle Lake, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835. The collection is, however, chiefly made up of studies of male and female nudes which vividly illustrate Etty's continued fascination with the subject throughout his career and the precocious talent for which he was famous among his contemporaries.
London, Royal Academy, 1835, no. 310.
Manchester, Royal Manchester Institution, 1835, no. 85.
London, British Institution, 1862, no. 186, lent by Louis Huth.
By the time that Etty exhibited this composition at the Royal Academy in 1835 he had already established a reputation as one of the most forceful and talented painters of his generation. He was not only the first British artist to paint the nude seriously and consistently but a convincing painter of history paintings in the grand manner which were then widely considered to be the noblest and most praise worthy form of art. However, his style was eclectic and his distinctive approach, in particular to the nude, while praised in some circles for its poetic inspiration and lyrical beauty, was criticised in others for being 'unclassical' and at times even immoral.
This composition, one of seven which the artist chose to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1835, was inspired by Edmund Spenser's great poem The Faerie Queene [Book II, Canto 6], one of the most important works of the English Renaissance, of which the first three books were published in 1589 and the second three in 1596. The poem, which glorified Queen Elizabeth I of England, tells of twelve of the Queen's Knights, each exemplifying a different virtue, who each undertake an adventure on the twelve successive days of the Queen's annual festival. Cymochles 'a man of rare undoubted might' and 'given all to lust and loose living', who is the brother of Pyrochles and husband of Acrasia, sets out to avenge on Sir Guyon the supposed death of his brother, but Phaedria, the Lady of the Idle lake, who symbolises immodest mirth, intervenes. Spenser's poem had an enormous appeal to artists of the Romantic era on account of its wealth of pictorial incident and its Renaissance pedigree and was an especially attractive source for aspiring history painters. The subject of the present picture was not the only scene that inspired Etty and in 1833 he exhibited a composition entitled Britomart Redeems Faire Amoret stimulated by a scene from book three of the poem (Tate Gallery).
The present picture was the second time that the artist had attempted to bring this scene from Spenser's poem to life in paint. He had exhibited an earlier version of the same subject which is slightly more finished, and of slightly different dimensions (25 x 30 in.), for which there are studies in the Victoria and Albert Museum, at the Royal Academy in 1832 (as no. 360, now Art Museum, Princeton) accompanied by the following lines from the poem in the Royal Academy catalogue:
Along the shore as swift as glance of eye,
a little gondelay, bedecked trim
With boughs and arbours woven cunningly
That like a little forest seemed outwardly
The present picture differs in several details from his earlier version and in the catalogue of the exhibition it was accompanied by different lines from Spenser's poem which emphasised these changes:
And all the way the wanton damsel found
New mirth her passenger to enteraine,
For she in pleasant perpose did abound
And greatly joyed merrye tales to sayne.
And other whiles vaine toyes she would devize
As her fantastic wit did most delight,
Sometimes her head she fondly would aguize
With gaudy girlondes, or fresh flowrets dight
About her neck, or rings of rushes plight.
The most conspicuous changes in the composition of the present picture when compared to the earlier version are that Etty has added a third figure, that of Cupid, to the left of the figures of Phaedria and Cymochles, and Phaedria and Cymochles are composed differently with Cymochles seated beside Phaedria, in the stern of the boat with his arm around her, rather than lying outstretched before her as in the earlier version. A rudder held by Phaedria in the earlier picture has also been replaced by a garland of flowers trailing in the water and a pair of love birds nestles in the branches above the figures, and there are several other more minor differences.
With its rich colouring this picture is characteristic of Etty's work and shows the extent of his debt to the Old Masters, in particular to the Venetian School, and most notably to Titian. Etty had studied the Old Masters in depth on an extended Grand Tour in Italy of some eighteen months, between 1822 and 1824, nine of which were spent in Venice. In overall effect the picture is also reminiscent of earlier works such as his celebrated Youth on the Prow, and Pleasure at the Helm which the artist had exhibited alongside his earlier version of Phaedria and Cymochles in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1832 (the former was presented to the Tate Gallery by Robert Vernon in 1847). The artist's interest in the nude and his ability to paint both the male and female form convincingly, which he developed throughout his career through continuous study at the Academy's life schools, are clearly displayed here.
When the picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy, alongside his Venus and her Satellites, it provoked criticism in some quarters. The critic for The Times was scandalised and wrote:
The latter is a most disgusting thing, and we wonder that in these times the people who have the direction of this exhibition venture to permit such pictures to be hung. Phaedria is the true representative of one of the Nymphs of Drury lane, and Cymochles looks like an unwashed coalporter. Such pictures are as shocking to good taste as they are offensive to common decency; they are only fit for the contemplation of very old or very young gentlemen, and ought to be reserved for the particular delectation of those classes of persons
The present painting has a distinguished provenance. It is first recorded in the collection of Louis Huth (1821-1905), a patron of James McNeil Whistler, who painted a full-length portrait of Huth's wife. It was later owned by the brewery magnate Charles P. Matthews who formed a magnificent collection of 'modern' pictures which was dispersed after his death in a single owner sale at Christie's on 6 June 1891. Matthews' collection included, among other notable works, four oils by Sir John Everett Millais, six by John Frederick Lewis, six by Frederic, Lord Leighton, three by William Powell Frith, and three works by William Holman Hunt, including the latter's celebrated The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (now in the City Museum and Art Gallery , Birmingham), which was bought by Thomas Agnew and Sons at the 1891 auction for three thousand four hundred guineas. The present picture was one of four oils by Etty in Matthews' collection. The picture was later in the collection of Cyril Flower, 1st Lord Battersea, whose wife Constance was the daughter of Sir Anthony Rothschild, 1st Bt. Lord Battersea was a notable collector of early Italian pictures and also a major patron of Burne-Jones and Frederick Sandys. The jewel in his collection was Burne Jones' Golden Stairs (now Tate Gallery) which his widow presented to the nation in 1924.
at 6:00 AM