York Castle Museum

Special Exhibitions

William Etty: Art and Controversy

25 June, 2011 - 22 January, 2012

This major exhibition takes a fresh look at the works of York-born artist William Etty RA (1787-1849) and uncovers the reasons for his controversial reputation. It is the first comprehensive reassessment of his art for more than 50 years.



Art and Controversy

Iphengenia by William Etty

Iphigenia by William Etty

Etty's art divided public opinion during the first half of the nineteenth century more than that of any other British artist, with the possible exception of Turner.

During his 40-year career he produced a wide variety of landscapes and portraits, but is most famous for his repeated use of the female nude.

Many believed that the splendour of his richly coloured canvases was designed to disguise his underlying preoccupation with titillating forms of bodily display.

Etty was repeatedly encouraged to 'turn from his wicked ways' and make his art 'fit for decent company'.

At the same time, one critic declared Etty to be 'the greatest of all our history painters'. Another said the brilliancy of his colours were almost 'too much for human eyes to dwell upon'.

He was described as the natural heir of the Old Masters; as 'rivalling Rubens and the great Venetians on their own ground'.

The exhibition

Detail from The Bridge of Sighs

Detail from The Bridge of Sighs by William Etty

This exhibition includes more than 100 of Etty's works from Tate, the Royal Academy, the Royal Collection, Russell Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Southampton Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery, as well as many works from York Art Gallery.

The works are displayed in four key areas:

Etty’s history paintings and his problematic relationship with the critics;

His passion for the Old Masters and the delicate copies he made after them;

The artist's passion for the life class which includes numerous oil studies and sketches;

Etty's rich and characteristic portraits.

The Etty Express

The Etty Express

You can also pick up a copy of The Etty Express, which contains many quotes from journalists and critics of the day, giving an insight into the controversy surrounding Etty and his work.

Alternatively, view the pages here:

The Etty Express - Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4.


The catalogue - limited stock now available

William Etty Art & Controversy - the exhibition catalogue edited by Sarah Burnage, Mark Hallett and Laura Turner

William Etty Art & Controversy - the exhibition catalogue edited by Sarah Burnage, Mark Hallett and Laura Turner

A full-colour catalogue has also been produced to accompany the exhibition.

William Etty: Art and Controversy, is edited by Dr Sarah Burnage, researcher and exhibition curator, Prof Mark Hallett from the University of York and Laura Turner, our curator of art.

Copies have been selling well since June and stocks are now limited, so ensure you get in touch if you wish to secure a copy.

The catalogue costs £25 and is available to order by post at the following rates:

UK P&P: £7.00
Europe Airmail P&P: £12.00
Worldwide Airmail P&P: £21.00 (5 - 14 days)
Worldwide Surface Mail P&P: £14.00 (up to 56 days)

If would would like to order a copy by post, send a cheque made payable to The York Museums Trust, to Sharon Finlayson, Retail Supervisor, York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York, YO1 7EW.

If you would prefer to pay by credit card, please email us for details. Please note, it may take two or three days for us to get back to you due to the volume of our enquiries.

Etty York Walk

Click on the image to download the Etty Walk leaflet

Click on the image to download the Etty Walk leaflet

Etty was born and died in York and there are many sites around the city connected with his life.

Why not see them for yourself after visiting the exhibition by taking our Etty York Walk?

Pick up a leaflet at the gallery or download one here to print out yourself.



We have a busy programme of events running during the exhibition.
Visit our Events page or download our leaflet.

More information

Art in Yorkshire

Listen to Sarah Burnage talking about Etty's art in a podcast about Art and Controversy produced by Art in Yorkshire - supported by Tate, a year-long celebration of the visual art in 19 galleries throughout Yorkshire.

Download a more detailed description of the exhibition and the catalogue.

Visit our Star Works section for more about the life and work of William Etty, and to see more examples of his work.

Media Partner

We're delighted to be working in partnership with The Times to offer exclusive events and offers to members of the Times+ scheme. We are grateful for their support for this exhibition.

Visit the MyTimesPlus website for more details