William Etty, R.A. (1787-1849)
William Etty, R.A. (1787-1849)

Venus and Cupid

William Etty, R.A. (1787-1849)
Venus and Cupid
oil on panel
16½ x 21½ in. (41.9 x 54.6 cm.)
Elhanen Bicknell (1788-1861), Herne Hill, by 1849
His posthumous sale; Christie's, London, 25 April 1863,lot 63 (bought for 98 gns. by Bicknell's son Henry Sanford Bicknell (1818-1880)
Mentioned in his will dated 8 August 1879
Burcombe House
Dr Waagen, Art Treasures of Great Britain, London, 1854, vol ii, p. 353. ('Of singular grace, and unusually careful completion').
Anon., 'The Bicknell Collection',The Times, 27 April 1863 ('A splendid piece of colouring').
London, Society of Arts, William Etty, R.A. [retrospective exhibition], 1849, no.30., lent by Elhanen Bicknell.

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Lot Essay

William Etty depicted the subject of Venus and Cupid on various occasions, deploying several different compositions. The present work, from the collection of Elhanen Bicknell, is particularly close, both in composition and handling, to Etty's smaller Venus and Cupid, painted on canvas, at York Art Gallery (Dennis Farr, William Etty, London, 1958, p.155, no. 91, and pl.35a). The general disposition of the two figures is similar and both works have a background of red curtain to the left and landscape to the right. The figure of Cupid, however, is much closer to that of the child in Etty's A Family of the Forests, shown at the Royal Academy in 1836 and now also at York Art Gallery (Farr, p.145, no.57, and pl. 68). Intriguingly, this latter picture was purchased in 1867 by Henry Sanford Bicknell, who had bought the present Venus and Cupid at his father's posthumous sale of 1863.

Farr suggests that the York Venus and Cupid was the painting exhibited at the British Institution in 1830 with this title, as the frame measurements given in that year's catalogue would fit. The same might be argued for the present work. However, the catalogue of the Etty retrospective exhibition at the Society of Arts in 1849 states that a Venus and Cupid lent by C.W. Wass (no.35) was the work shown at the British Institution in 1830, while indicating that the Bicknell picture, also in the 1849 exhibition (no.30), had not been previously been shown and was painted in 1842. If this date is correct, then the Bicknell painting is probably later than the York Venus and Cupid, which Farr assigns to the early 1830s: the York picture would thus have provided the model for Bicknell's, rather than vice-versa.

The present Venus and Cupid, perhaps bought direct from the artist, was one of three paintings by Etty belonging to Elhanen Bicknell and included in the posthumous sale of his 'renowned collection of English Pictures and Sculpture' at Christie's, London, on 25 April 1863 (sales of watercolours and works in other categories were held in the days following). According to Alexander Gilchrist (Life of William Etty, R.A., volume 2, London, 1855, p.203), Bicknell 'promoted' George Thomas Doo's engraving of 1849 after Etty's The Combat. Having made a fortune in the Pacific sperm-whale fishing industry, Elhanen Bicknell was among the leading collectors of contemporary British art in the mid-nineteenth century, best known as one of Turner's most important patrons.

We are grateful to Richard Green for examining this painting.

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