“Those who see ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming” – Oscar Wilde
Until a few days ago, the above painting by J W Waterhouse hung in the Manchester Art Gallery. No more. It has been replaced by a disorderly collection of post-it notes. This is more like valid art, the gallery appears to think. But not their visitors. Not judging by the contents of said post-it notes.
The 1896 painting depicts an episode from Greek myth, “Hylas and the Nymphs”. The pre-Raphaelite painting usually hangs in a room of 19th century art called ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’.
But Clare Gannaway, the museum’s curator of contemporary art, has called the ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’ collection a cause for “embarrassment.” Gannaway said that recent anti-sexual harassment campaigns such as Time’s Up and #MeToo had an influence on the decision to remove the painting. She said, “For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere.”
She added “it wasn’t about denying the existence of particular artworks.” Hmm.
The gallery insists it is not banning the picture but simply wants to provoke debate – to ‘prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks’ and how to make them ‘relevant’ in the 21st century.
I am happy to oblige. You will soon see why I am taking up your time with this matter, which appears to be merely the latest bit of feminist nonsense. There is a delightful twist in this tale, though the imbeciles who do this sort of thing know nought of it.
Hylas was one of the Argonauts. As merely the son of a King, Hylas must have felt rather socially inferior as so many of the crew of the Argo were sons of Gods. Not having the status of major Hero, poor Hylas, a mere mortal boy, was destined to be one of those who did not survive the adventures of the Argonauts. At least – he didn’t return.
It is said by some sources that Hera was behind it. That it was she who put the Nymph, Dryope, to the task of kidnapping Hylas. What the poor boy had done to anger the Goddess is not recorded. But one does not need to be a genius to work it out. The Queen of Heaven was renowned for her jealousy and resentment for other lovers of her husband and brother, Zeus. And, of course, their bastard offspring – of which Heracles was one.
Hera was to dedicate herself to the torment of Heracles for the duration of his mortal life (and who knows what thereafter). His every adventure was plagued by the revengeful Goddess.
Heracles’s favourite was none other than Hylas, the golden boy. The great demi-God and Hero raised Hylas as a warrior and as his personal assistant. Oh dear, poor Hylas. What tragedy to be both mortal and the favourite of one permanently the target of Hera. And how like the spiteful Goddess Queen to strike at his favourite, the Hero himself being harder to damage directly.
So it was that when Hylas went to fetch water from the river he was ensnared. The chief culprit was the nymph Dryope, operating in accord with Hera’s will. Hylas knew nothing of Nymphs. As he bent down to fill his pitcher he heard silvery voices, calling, calling. He bent lower and two slender white hands suddenly rose from the black water and pulled him in. He was in the power now of Dryope and her sisters. His fate was sealed and Hylas was never seen again by mortal man.
So distraught was Heracles that he spent days on end searching for his companion. So long, in fact, that the Argo sailed without him.
And what of the art gallery’s request: to make this myth relevant to the 21st century? You see, it already is. Any follower of Jordan Peterson knows that myths appeal to Archetypes, and hence are timeless.
Hera is the great Matriarch, the Goddess of women and marriage; the Great Sacred Cow. She is the seat of female power, the Earth Mother. The Nymphs are a mechanism of her power, expressed as the visible female form, hence wielding the power of desire over men. Thus, Hera and the Nymphs together represent gynocentric power over men.
Hera was not only a sworn enemy of Heracles, she was also jealous of the purely male bond between Heracles and his Hylas. Such a thing is a challenge to gynocentric power and must be broken. The Nymphs, the manifestation of desire, are the means by which Hera breaks the male bond, depriving Heracles of his golden boy, and depriving Hylas of his Father-Mentor.
The story is allegorical and of particularly apposite contemporary relevance. It tells of the breaking of male companionship by jealous gynocentric power. Think destruction of male spaces.
Look closer and you will see that this myth, this picture which these fools have chosen to challenge, is a warning to men of the very thing being played out by #MeToo and the Presidents Club. It warns that alluring female pulchritude may be a trap set to divide and conquer men.
I am confident that this was not the conscious intention of those responsible for the painting’s removal.
Is this, then, just a stupendous irony? Or is it a case of the wicked being betrayed by their own subconscious?
Henrietta Rae’s version of Hylas and the Nymphs (clearly a case of internalised misogyny – or possibly just a first rate artist, who am I to say?)