A leading art gallery is facing a furious backlash after taking down a Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece in a bid to “provoke debate”.
Hylas and the Nymphs, completed in 1896, depicts the ancient Greek warrior Hyalas being lured to his doom by a group of naked water nymphs in the myth Jason and the Argonauts — and has hung in Manchester Art Gallery.
It has been temporarily removed John William Waterhouse’s masterpiece in an attempt to rethink historical artwork that “presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale’.”
And it gets worse:
Postcards of the painting will also be removed from sale in the gallery shop.
Clare Gannaway, Manchester Art Gallery’s curator of contemporary art, said the debates around Time’s Up and #MeToo had spurned the decision.
Just so we’re clear on the topic, this is the painting in question:
I’m not a huge fan of Victorian art, but I do like Waterhouse, and this painting in particular.
Here’s what you need to know about Victorian art. Because of the age’s well-known attitude towards nudity and sexuality, artists of the time couldn’t paint or sculpt pieces that were graphic or sexual, with one important exception: if the artwork referred to a classical- or mythic theme (such as Hylas and the Nymphs), such depictions were allowed. Which is why you find so many Greek- and Roman mythical characters and situations in Victorian art which contained nudity. Here’s another example, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s A Favourite Custom:
…in which can be seen nude women, albeit chastely displayed, at a Roman bath house. (For anyone interested, here’s a decent book on the topic: Tell Me, Pretty Maiden).
As this is a weekend, I’m not going to rant about the Manchester Art Gallery’s idiocy because it deserves a Two-Minute Hate post. Next week, however…