Water Maids

The Manchester Art Gallery has removed a famous painting.

[The museum removed] John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, one of the most recognisable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings, from its walls. Postcards of the painting will be removed from sale in the shop....

The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Why have mildly erotic nymphs been removed from a Manchester gallery? Is Picasso next?

Gannaway said the title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

“For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. 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 said the debates around Time’s Up and #MeToo had fed into the decision.
British high society is now officially more repulsed by sex than the actual Victorians. The Victorians at least used to say that it was the capacity of the erotic to produce high art that redeemed an otherwise troubling emotion. Now we are told that male desire cannot be justified even if it produces high art; rather, the high art is condemned for being an expression of such desire.

A painting like this transcends mere carnal attraction by aiming at something universal to the human experience, or at least more universal than the particular attraction of one man to one woman. It captures something about the awe that men feel in contemplating the beauty of women; the tie to mythology captures the way in which the experience of beauty sacralizes the world. Of course this particular myth warns about the dangers of being swept away by the pursuit of such beauty -- Hylas' capture by the water nymphs removes him from the service of Hercules. Some versions of the story suggest that Hylas ended up happier as a result, but that Hercules was distraught by his loss.

Waterhouse is not the only artist to have treated the question, as the last link suggests: rather, it has been a popular subject of artists of all sorts since Ancient Greece. It is a cultural tie across generations and civilizations, in addition to having that universal quality.

Ultimately people are going to have to rediscover what it means to be an adult. One of the things it usually means is having to deal with the presence of the erotic in one's life: unprompted feelings in the self, but also unprompted and perhaps unwanted attentions from others. Another thing that it means is dealing with the attendant dangers of one's erotic feelings, which can and do cause both men and women to be swept away from existing lives and responsibilities. Sometimes this is to their destruction; sometimes they find a new happiness, but not often without forcing a cost upon others. Spouses are abandoned, like Hercules not understanding how a beloved other was swept away.

The myths are better teachers than almost any. Contemplate this on the tree of woe.


raven said...

Ever get the feeling the PC left's sole purpose of existence is poking western culture in the eye with a sharp stick? Their every act seems intended to inflame discord.

james said...

If they don't want it I could try to find a home for it on the wall. Though my wife might object. And it doesn't match the bookcases.

Grim said...

My wife, the classically trained painter, would not object at all.

Anonymous said...

ill take it! in a heartbeat.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Even if it were a terrible message, it is part of Western Civ's progression, and instructive about how other times and places viewed things differently. This erasure of the past is a very dangerous thing.

Bear-baiting, ferreting, and cockfighting are unsavory to us now. Do we refuse to refer to them ever again? How will we understand the centuries before us? To ask the question is to answer it. The modern censors do not want us to know about the past and understand it. No messages must get in from unapproved places.

douglas said...

When you think about it, AVI, the Left wants to separate us from what the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil gave us- even if in our disobedience- that which makes us man as made in His image, and not merely man the animal. Their path leads to dehumanization.