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 Loading... Please wait... Gallery Wanted to Provoke Debate. It Succeeded

Posted by NY Times on


“Hylas and the Nymphs,” by John William Waterhouse, was temporarily removed from the Manchester Art Gallery in England. A curator said, “We picked this painting quite provocatively because it is quite a popular one.” Credit Manchester Art Gallery

An art gallery in England turned a 19th-century painting into a commentary on contemporary culture last month by removing it altogether.

The Pre-Raphaelite painting, “Hylas and the Nymphs,” by the Victorian artist John William Waterhouse, is now back on display at the Manchester Art Gallery. It shows Hylas, a companion of the mythological hero Heracles, being lured into a lily pond by seven naked young women.

(The women were nymphs and Hylas did not make it out alive, according to the Greek myth on which the painting is based.)

In a statement, the gallery said the removal was meant “to prompt conversation about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.” It encouraged visitors to leave sticky notes at the spot where the painting had hung. And it posed questions, including: “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?”

It was, apparently, an irresistible prompt. Commentary poured in via dozens of sticky notes, hundreds of online comments and widespread news coverage. Many decried the painting’s removal, calling it an example of censorship.

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