William Etty, Charlotte Brontë and a French connection

Looking through the Art Gallery Gift Collection Ilka Heale found some surprising connections

The York Art Gallery collection consists mainly of books on, and about, art and artists - which is why this book about the French actress Eliza Felix (1821-1858) is an unusual addition to the collection: Rachel by Joanna Richardson (London : M. Reinhardt 1956).


Yet there is a connection: Eliza's portrait was painted by York born artist William Etty, and is held at the Art Gallery, along with other works by the artist.

'Rachel' by William Etty. Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Eliza, who used the stage name Rachel, was known for playing tragic heroines at the Comédie Française and from 1843 she made annual trips to Britain to perform.

It was during one of these performances in 1851 that Charlotte Brontë was in the audience - she based the character Vashti, in her 1853 novel Villette, on Rachel (see shelfmark MA 163.6 for this book and other works by the author and her family). You can read more about Rachel's life here.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë ; [edited by Temple Scott]. Edinburgh : J Grant 1905, verso p.1

'Portrait of William Etty' Royal Academy LACMA AC1993.204.4
by David Octavius Hill (Scotland, 1802-1870),
Robert Adamson (Scotland, 1821-1848) used by permission.

Who was William Etty?

William Etty (10 March 1787 – 13 November 1849) was born in Feasegate in York and moved down to London in 1805 where he became a student at the Royal Academy in 1807.

He spent most of his career in London, but was buried in York. His grave is in the yard of St Olave's Church, Marygate and can be viewed from within the ruins of St Mary's Abbey.

Further info: Oxford Dictionary of Biography (Library subscription).

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