Nature Unveiling Herself

William Etty (1787-1849)

Oil and graphite on board

63.5 x 33 cm (25 x 13 inches)

Signed, upper centre: "Etty. Dec.r 1842. / No 14" (in oil).

Inscription over signature: "Visitor / 'Nature unveiling herself' / Etty" (in graphite).

Provenance: bought as Lot 161, Christie's, 28th March 2007.

This is an unusual work in many respects. It is, for example, rare to find a small Etty painting that is signed, let alone one dated so precisely and titled within the main body of the work. The composition is also unusual in terms of Etty's own practice and more generally. Etty's nudes are usually richly coloured and shadowed, with contraposto poses. The present work is much barer with a restricted colour range, and is almost aggressive in its emphatically frontal display.

The relation between the title of the work and its appearance is subtly dialectical. On the one hand, the insistently displayed frontality shows the woman without the usual compositional trappings that would (as it were) dress her up as a classical, academically sanctioned nude. On the other hand, the title Nature Unveiling Herself provides a contextual factor that allows the blatancy of visual address to be made respectable as an allegory. [Paul Crowther’s commentary continued below]

[Click on image to enlarge it.]