John William Waterhouse's painting, Hylas and the Nymphs (1869), was removed from display
at the Manchester Art Gallery in northern England. The museum said it banished the painting to "challenge a Victorian fantasy."
From Art News:
On the night of January 26, the gallery team and invited collaborators took over the gallery and removed the pre-Raphaelite painting Hylas and the Nymphs (1869) from the wall, as well as postcards of the painting from the shop.
The offending image depicts a mythical scene of bare-chested nymphs tempting Hylas to his death, and is not the only one of its kind in a room devoted to 19th century art that is titled "In Pursuit of Beauty."
The stunt was filmed as part of a new artwork by Sonia Boyce, who is exploring "gender trouble" in the paintings and wider culture of the 19th century. The full film of the action will be shown in her upcoming retrospective at the gallery, which runs March 23 through September 2.
"For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven't dealt with it sooner," Clare Gannaway, the gallery's contemporary art curator, told The Guardian. "Our attention has been elsewhere…we've collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long."
Gannaway also described the painting—and others like it—as old-fashioned for depicting women "either as passive beautiful objects or femmes fatales." She said there were "tricky issues about gender, race and representation." It's a bit unclear what exactly the problem is here, but the curator seems to be suggesting the girls are too white, and too naked.
The Guardian reports that the #MeToo movement "fed into the decision.
Liz Prettejohn, a professor of history of art at University of York, told BBC News:
This is a painting that people love and the most ridiculous thing is the claim that somehow it's going to start a debate to take it out of public view.
Taking it off display is killing any kind of debate that you might be able to have about it in relation to some of the really interesting issues that it might raise about sexuality and gender relationships.
The Victorians are always getting criticised because they're supposed to be prudish. But here it would seem it's us who are taking the roles of what we think of as the very moralistic Victorians.
— MAGcurators (@MAGcurators) January 30, 2018