OIL PAINTING: Musidora: The Bather at the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed, 1846
The scene of Musidora discovered by the swain Damon as she bathes innocently by an English stream, from James Thomson's The Seasons (1727), achieved unprecedented currency as a pretext for the nude in Britain from the late eighteenth century to the 1840s. This subject, the nation's surrogate Venus, was represented in painting, sculpture, Parian ware and book illustration by Gainsborough, Wilkie, Lough, Frost and Arthur Hughes among others. Etty exhibited two versions of the subject, one at the Royal Academy in 1843, the other at the British Institution in 1846, of which this is a copy. He also produced a number of further variations on the theme.
The subject was initially popularised by illustrated editions of Thomson's poem. Etty's painting was exhibited accompanied by lines 1313-20 of "Summer", the most well-thumbed section of the poem according to Wordsworth. But if voyeurism was encouraged by phrases such as "fair exposed she stood, shrunk from herself, With fancy blushing", they were mitigated by reiterations of Musidora's chastity. "What a pure, virginal, shrinking, chaste, delightful creature is his Musidora" wrote Haydon, for instance, praising Lough's 1828 version.