York Castle Museum

Star Work

William Etty - York's controversial artist

William Etty is York's most famous artist and was the first major British painter to specialise in the nude before the 20th century.

We have the largest collection of his work, including 78 paintings, more than 1,000 sketches and drawings, plus letters and other papers.

Born in York in 1787, he was the seventh child of a miller and baker and would often draw in chalk on his father's shop floor. In 1798 he was apprenticed to a printer, but in 1805 his uncle paid for him to go to London and to enter the Royal Academy Schools in 1807.

Inspired by artists like Rubens and Titian, he was best known for his nudes and history paintings, but he also painted many landscapes and portraits.

He was financially successful in his own lifetime, despite being criticised in the press for indecency, and was made an associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1824, defeating Constable by 18 votes to five. In 1828 he became a full academician.

Known as a shy bachelor, he moved back to York from London in 1848 after his retirement and died the following year in 1849.

Click here for details of our major exhibition and accompanying catalogue, William Etty: Art and Controversy, which closed in January, 2012