Seemingly the “do women have to be naked to get into the Met.” Guerrilla Girls (Latest Picks 21st Jul. 2016) and, more recently, the Times Up and #MeToo campaign (Blog, updated 7th Jan. 2018) landing on the public’s backlash toes as some with no need to be clutching their alt-right doodah suggested it always would:
A celebrated painting JW Waterhouse has been removed from display at the Manchester Art Gallery, in an act the museum says aims to “challenge this Victorian fantasy” of “the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale’”.
You know the one with poor clothed Hylas being tempted down into the water by nawty naked nymphs by one of the most popular of those much loved romantics the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who, in all truth were more Current Bun “She’s a stunner” headline tempting fems to lay clothed but with freezing pokey nippleage in bath so they could paint them (bbc.co.uk, Nov. 2013).
Inspired by Greek mythology, Waterhouse’s 1896 painting Hylas and the Nymphs shows a young man being abducted by nude water nymphs, and usually hangs in a room of 19th century art called In Pursuit of Beauty.
Hylas, if familiar with your Greco-Roman myth—or the superhero team-up that is Jason and the Argonauts at least—being demigod Heracles’ servant and special “companion” resulting in him having to forgo the rest of the expedition to Colchis for the golden fleece so he could look for the poor now missing Hylas (and let Jason be the hero, allowing an older hero to bow out gracefully).
With museum’s curator of contemporary art Clare Gannaway calling the In Pursuit of Beauty collection “a cause for embarrassment” and suprised that “we haven’t dealt with it sooner” and seemingly prompting a contentious “conversation”:
A notice has been installed where the painting usually hangs, explaining that it has been removed “to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks”.
Which social media was willing to give:
One social media user, who describes themself as “a victim of sexual abuse,” branded the removal “a pathetic stunt trying to hijack the essence of me too”.
With academics keen to join “conversation” too:
Dr Cath Feely, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Derby, described Hylas and the Nymphs as a “one of the jewels of a public collection”. Waterhouse, whose painting The Lady of Shalott is permanently on display at Tate Britain, is one of the best known pre-Raphaelite artists.
But then again, The Lady of Shalott is clothed in that one as she drifts down the river to her doom at unrequited love for Lancelot. But Dr Feely is keen to stress that there is indeed repression evident in Victorian need to cover up a tables legs—or at least representative in the debunked myth that that is (atlasobscura.com, Jul. 2017)—but that perhaps art classically legitimised nudity.
Feely wrote: “Honestly, this gallery—and those few rooms—is why I know the very little I do know about art. I take students there to deconstruct Victorian attitudes to gender and sex.”
Indeed, some might argue in “conversation” that sex (or desire at least) and art are intrinsically linked and always have been on anything but a chocolate box; for sure, “artistic” tit removes the repression looking at tit in other context may still seem to connote and some are keen to indulge and not be made to feel that they are offending societal mores.
Comments posted on the museum’s website have been overwhelmingly negative. “I will not return to your gallery until this painting hangs there again,” one visitor wrote. “This was a work that during my university years engaged me with my first appreciation of art. This is po faced censorship and a dangerous retrograde step for 21st century morality. The comments here speak for themselves. Get off your high horse.”
- Google’s art selfies are the talk of Twitter (Latest Picks 16th January 2018)
- The Times Up and #MeToo campaign “becoming the story” at the Golden Globes (Blog, updated 7th Jan. 2018)
- Mum calls for Sleeping Beauty story to be removed from primary school curriculum because of its without consent kiss message (Latest Picks 23rd November 2017)
- The Guerrilla Girls will unveil a new artwork interrogating sexism of European art scene at Whitechapel Gallery (Latest Picks 21st July 2016)
- The Guardian’s Amanda Vickery asks why are there so few paintings by women in public galleries but women in so many of them? (Pick of the Week 21st May 2014)