Dr Beatrice Bertram, Senior Curator, will give a talk ‘The Key to the Secret’: William Etty’s Venetian Colouring, on 2 November, 2pm – 4pm at York Medical Society Rooms, Stonegate Click here to book.
The York-born artist and Royal Academician William Etty did much to promote both love of the arts and art education in his home city as well as in London. The talk of our Senior Curator at the Gallery, Dr Beatrice Bertram, an expert on the artist, coincides with the arrival in York of a work that Etty himself held in especial regard. This is his copy of the painting in the Louvre in Paris, since the 18th century called the Pastoral Concert, Concert Champêtre (or Fête Champêtre, thereby linking it with the pastorals of Watteau and his contemporaries), then believed to be by the elusive Venetian artist Giorgione but today usually attributed to Titian or more vaguely ‘the School of Titian’ or, by those hedging their bets, to Giorgione and Titian working together (Giorgione is anyway a somewhat virtual artist, since no surviving work has been attributed to him continuously from his own day down to ours). Etty kept it in his studio to show prospective buyers the quality of his artistry as a colourist. Subsequently Etty’s copy was acquired by Lady Eastlake, the wife of Sir Charles Eastlake (the first Director of the National Gallery in London, and the individual most responsible for turning a small collection of just 38 works into one of most important picture galleries in Europe) and herself a distinguished art historian. From the 16th to the 19th centuries artists frequently learned their craft partly by copying important works from the past; the practice was employed by some of the greatest masters of all (Rubens, for example, or Sargent).
Etty’s painting is now on semi-permanent loan to York Art Gallery, and it will be put on display in 2024. But first, after cleaning and conservation, it goes to Italy for an international exhibition on the response of British artists and designers to the Italian Renaissance 1840-1920, entitled Pre-Raphaelites: A Modern Renaissance. This will be held in the town of Forlì near Bologna at the Musei di San Domenico, a thirteenth-century Dominican convent converted at the end of the twentieth century into a museum with state-of-the-art facilities (February to June next year). The curatorial team includes Professor Elizabeth Prettejohn from the University of York.
In truth there are no definitive arguments to establish authorship of the Fête Champêtre, but, whoever painted it, it is one of the loveliest Venetian works of the High Renaissance – Walter Pater, in his famous essay ‘The School of Giorgione’, called it ‘the beloved picture’. And Etty’s reduced-size copy does it splendid justice, besides being in rather better condition than the original. Doubtless Etty was probably attracted to it especially by two things: its warm Venetian colouring, and its inclusion of two voluptuous female nudes.
The lecture is part of our fundraising project for our Anniversary Year, and I strongly encourage members to join us and find out more about this fascinating, previously unseen work by Etty, now in York.