Saturday, February 23, 2013

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with her daughter Georgiana, later Countess of Carlisle, 1808

oil on canvas
112.4 x 143.5 cm.
The Royal Collection, United Kingdom

William Etty (1787-1849) studied with Sir Thomas Lawrence for a year in 1808, before becoming a highly successful painter of erotic mythologies. In 1825 George IV promised Lawrence 400 guineas for a copy of Reynolds’s famous portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with her daughter, the original exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1786 and still at Chatsworth. Lawrence passed the royal commission over to his former pupil, who produced this magnificent copy. Morant was paid £25 10s for the frame in 1828.

The Duchess sits at three-quarters length, facing half to the right, wearing a black dress with a white fishu, her right arm raised, her left about the waist of her daughter who balances on her mother's left knee, both hands raised; red drapery on the left and above the sitters.

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William Etty was an English painter. He received financial support from his uncle allowed him to go to London in 1805, where he entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1806. Following the death of his uncle in 1809 he became financially secure. From 1811 he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the British Institution..
His success was due to large history paintings. He was one of the few British artists to make a career out of this genre. The Classical or biblical subject-matter of the history works gave Etty the ideal pretext for painting the nude. He did, however, believe that they had a serious purpose and proclaimed that his intention in all his major paintings had been ‘to paint some great moral on the heart'. During the 1830s and 1840s Etty generally concentrated on smaller, less ambitious works. In this he catered to the market, to the point that, in his later years, he risked being accused of selling out to the dealers. Throughout his career Etty painted portraits. In his later years he also produced such landscape paintings. At their best his spontaneous oil sketches of landscape bear comparison with Constable's. Etty is the only major British painter before the 20th century to have devoted his career to the nude. Remarkably, his public recognition and success were achieved in the face of vitriolic censure from a press that accused him of indecency. Though famous and financially successful in his day, his reputation declined after his death and has never fully recovered.


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