Painting of Naked Nymphs Back on Public Display After Temporary Removal

Manchester Art Gallery put John William Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs back on public display after a week of temporary removal. The censorship of the painting of naked nymphs has sparked heat debate about representation in art and how works of art are interpreted and displayed.

Manchester Art Gallery removed Hylas and the Nymphs on 26 January

John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, one of the most recognizable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings, depicts a group of topless nymphs in a pond luring a young man to his death. The painting was previously hung in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings of female nudes.

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs

The short-term absence of the painting is part of the gallery's project working with the contemporary artist Sonia Boyce, whose solo exhibition will open in the gallery on 23 March 2018. The temporary removal was inspired by recent #MeToo and Time's Up movements. The whole process was filmed and will be included in Boyce's exhibition. 

Sonia Boyce

The gallery left a temporary space to prompt conversation about how works of art are interpreted and displayed. It raised questions about the relevance of the collection in the 21st century. "The gallery exists in a world full of intertwined issues of gender, race, sexuality and class which affect us all. How could artworks speak in more contemporary, relevant ways?" said in the gallery's statement.

Manchester Art Gallery

The comments section has received over 700 posts over the week. Amanda Wallace, Interim Director Manchester Art Gallery, said: “We’ve been inundated with responses to our temporary removal of Hylas and the Nymphs as part of the forthcoming Sonia Boyce exhibition, and it’s been amazing to see the depth and range of feelings expressed."

John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs

“We were hoping the experiment would stimulate discussion, and it’s fair to say we’ve had that in spades – and not just from local people but from art-lovers around the world.

“Throughout the painting’s seven-day absence, it’s been clear that many people feel very strongly about the issues raised, and we now plan to harness this strength of feeling for some further debate on these wider issues.”