William Etty, The Backbiter, 1844_ISANG Collection

- Born in York, William Etty left school at the age of 12 to become an apprentice printer in Hull. In 1807, he moved to London and joined the Royal Academy Schools. He studied under Thomas Lawrence and trained by copying works by other artists. Etty produced many landscapes and portraits, but he is principally known as the only major British painter before the 20th century to have specialised almost exclusively in the nude. His art divided public opinion more than that of any other British artist, with the possible exception of JMW Turner. In fact, Turner mocked Etty as a ‘smutty dauber of bumboats'. Remarkably, his public recognition and success were achieved despite vitriolic censure from a press that accused him of indecency. However, his reputation declined after his death and has never fully recovered.
Many of Etty’s paintings are of mythological, biblical or historical subjects; the Titian-influenced Backbiter is based on the story of Eve and the serpent. The devil, in the form of a venomous snake, looms, threateningly, over the sleeping nude in the Garden of Eden. Her body is plump with voluptuous curves, sturdily built, a pinched waist, sloping shoulders and a rosy-cheeked oval face; a feminine ideal of the time which Etty would continue to employ throughout his career.