Campus Free Speech

Gallery Nixes Naked Nymphs Because #MeToo

"Feminism gone mad! I'm ashamed to be a feminist!"

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Hylas
Public Domain

The Manchester Art Gallery has removed a John William Waterhouse painting, "Hylas and the Nymphs," due to concerns that the artwork—which depicts young, nude white women alongside the Greek hero Hylas—is no longer suitable in a post #MeToo world.

"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."

The removal might not be permanent, and it is intended "to prompt conversations." The gallery wants attendees to leave post-it notes expressing their views on the wall where the painting used to hang. One such note had this to say: "Feminism gone mad! I'm ashamed to be a feminist!"

The Manchester Art Gallery's website suggests that the painting's removal "was part of a group gallery takeover" and was filmed as a piece of performance art that explores "gender trouble" in 19th century paintings. The gallery is clearly attempting to frame the decision as an artistic choice rather than an act of censorship. But the gallery also removed postcards of the painting from its gift shop. Liz Prettejohn, who curated an earlier Waterhouse exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, 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.

In any case, Gannaway's apparent criticism—that the painting depicts young girls who are partially nude and serve as passive objects for the male gaze, or some such thing—is wildly off base. Look at it a little more closely and you will see that the nymphs have plenty of agency: They are dragging Hylas to his doom within their watery abode. According to Greek mythology, Hylas was abducted by the nymphs, probably raped, and never seen again. His friend and lover Hercules searched for him, but alas, poor Hylas was never seen again.

So I guess there is a #MeToo angle here: The painting literally depicts a sexual crime. It would be silly to withdraw the painting for that reason too, but at least the perceived offense would have fit the situation. Yet the politically correct curator seems to have missed the point of the painting—she's too busy re-applying fig leaves to R-rated art.

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66 responses to “Gallery Nixes Naked Nymphs Because #MeToo

  1. Hylas was abducted by the nymphs, probably raped, and never seen again. His friend and lover Hercules searched for him, but alas, poor Hylas was never seen again

    The conversion therapy was a success.

    1. Now see that would be a hilarious conversation to see go down among progressives. Women the Queens of the oppression movements, as the villains of intolerance against a gay man. No wonder the curator didn’t want that picture out there.

      1. Perky titties draw the male gaze. End of discussion.

  2. Oh, well this is a change. When I originally heard the story, it sounded like they were pulling the painting as a publicity stunt. A way to gin up discussion on how important it is not to censor art. I’m genuinely suprised the curator was serious about pulling it. I thought the historical at field had come to terms with naked bodies and changing morals over time.

    How did this women get the job if she wants to censor the past?

    1. Most likely because she wants to censor the past.

      1. Good theory.

    2. She wrote “HAZ VAGINA” on her resume, got moved to the front of the line.

    3. Yeah, like, who did she sleep with to get the job…

  3. Naked Nymphs

    Wood.

    The Manchester Art Gallery has removed a John William Waterhouse painting

    Do you know who else removed “unsuitable” artwork?

    1. My mom from under my mattress?

    2. Bill Clinton, as he exited the White House?

  4. Because of course all painters showing nymphs in the water should be sure they are fully clothed, to show the majesty of feminist logic.

    1. Do Naked Nymphs turn into Dragon Ladies? After they become Dragon Ladies, are they THEN politically correct?

  5. “… as old-fashioned for depicting women “either as passive beautiful objects or femmes fatales.” ”

    Far, FAR better, would be to portray them as gun-toting jack-booted thuggettes, working for Government Almighty, making sure that NO ONE blows on a cheap plastic flute (AKA, “lung flute”) w/o the permission of a Government-Almighty-licensed physician!

  6. Any kind of debate on something as intolerant as this would be shouted down by tolerant people who show their tolerance by not tolerating intolerance.

  7. Victorian prudishness. What’s old is new again.

    1. I hope they bring back the guillotine. The guillotine’s popularity started a bit before the Victorian era started but these people are historically illiterate anyways.

    2. The artist, John William Waterhouse, did much of his work during the Victorian era.

      Check out “The Remorse of the Emperor Nero after the Murder of his Mother” (1878). Nero looks bummed, but not bummed like he just committed matricide. He looks bummed like he just lost a game of Grand Theft Auto V.

      1. “Lost a game of grand theft auto V.”
        Pff, here’s how we know you’ve never been near a video game.

    3. Nine children and Albert died young, Victoria seems to have had a pretty randy life.

  8. How dare this woman tell Nymphs how they should dress. Nymphs are spirits of nature who self identify as naked women. That is their CHOICE!

  9. The price of this art will skyrocket. Once you make a big deal about something in the art World, it gets those
    people something to spend more money on.

    1. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the entire episode is a publicity stunt.

      1. Boobs!

      2. Five years ago, it would have been.

      3. With plausible deniability. — And coinciding with the decision to abolish grid girls.

  10. [Gannaway] said there were “tricky issues about gender, race and representation.”

    Apparently Gannaway feels the patrons of the gallery are too stupid to deal with said “tricky issues”. I don’t know what sort of folks go to this gallery; are truckers coming in and whistling at the nymphs? It seems unlikely but I guess you never know.

    1. Fragile college students.

      1. Fragile? Must be Italian!

    2. Yeah, we need time travel to go back and fix all the old art to have equal representation of minorities and trans persons. FFS

  11. Would

  12. Yet Europeans still love them some Roman Polanski.

  13. Is it possible the Victorian era was actually less prudish?

    1. Possible? It’s certain.

      1. See above – the artist in question did much of his work in that era.

    2. Yes and no. It depends on what aspects of society, custom, and law one is talking about. It depends on which classes one is talking about in Britain of the time. It’s also kind of difficult to ascribe a single ethos to “The Victorian Era” when Queen Victoria reigned for such a long period of time (from 1837 until 1901).

      Prostitution, for example, was criminalized in Britain in 1824 (13 years before Victoria became Queen). It was subsequently decriminalized-but-regulated in the 1860s (28 years after she became Queen). It was further regulated in the 1880s (but not outlawed).

      Erotic literature and pornography were never criminalized in Victorian Britain, but schoolboys caught in possession of any would be subject to pretty severe corporal discipline. Opinions on the “obscenity” of nudity in “legitimate” art was divided, largely according to the class divide (it was ok for the upper classes, but bad for the middle and working classes).

      Recreational drug use was never criminalized in Victorian Britain. In fact, it was widely considered an acceptable alternative to alcohol, which was widely considered to be a great evil and was highly regulated.

      Basically, if one was to ascribe a single ethos to the era, one could say that such things were considered acceptable for “free people” but were considered harmful for “working people”.

    3. Less cognitively dissonant, more like.

  14. At least the curator was not fired for showing pornography like the Utah art teacher.

  15. At least they don’t look like clotheshangers – I thought we were supposed to celbrate bodies of all shapes and sizes?

  16. In 1916 and 1917, the American quarter-dollar featured an image of the Liberty Goddess with one of her breasts exposed. Remove the spaces in the web-address below:

    https://i.pinimg.com/orig inals/8d/58/c5/8d58c51891bdf 3997785bc8ab7ead635.jpg

    1. Hi Mr. Toad,

      FYI, the easier thing to do, to get around the 50-letter limit at reason.com, is to take your preface to the web address and strip out the “S”… https: becomes http: and you are good to go… Reason will then auto-shorten…

      (I tried your link and it would not work for me, despite my taking the space out).

      1. Better yet, use an anchor tag.

  17. Send them to me. I will hang them in my chamber of horrors.

  18. I was kidnapped by nymphs once – they tossed me back on land. I kept coming back to the place to see if I could get kidnapped again, but no luck.

    1. #metoo, I suppose.

  19. So…can nymphs be nymphomaniacs?

    1. The Trope Definers, and the original Death by Snoo Snoo apparently.

  20. So…can nymphs be nymphomaniacs?

  21. It is not at all clear that Hylas and Hercules were lovers. I don’t like the idea of stating that as though the primary sources make it clear.

    1. The primary sources are pretty clear that they were not lovers.

      The modern homosexual conceit that all persons of note in antiquity were themselves homosexual is the source of this notion.

      1. Every guy who has a male friend is a pillow biter: fact.

  22. They’re not “women”. They’re “nymphs”.

  23. I never thought I’d see prudish puritanism show up in new guise in the political left. So much for the sexual revolution.

  24. You know, I think in a thousand years, archaeologists are going to conclude we (as a civilization) went batshit fucking insane in the 2010s. We’ve gone from the Left holding up Mapethorpe as an icon to now them wanting to tear down classic 19th century nude art because: boobs! At this point I’m not sure who is more destructive to our culture: asshole Leftwats or dirtbag Fundies on the Right. As it is, it seems like we’re being torn apart from both ends since they both seem to want the same kinds of censorship….

  25. Look at it a little more closely and you will see that the nymphs have plenty of agency:

    I think this is precisely where 11.5th wave feminism has trouble. The state has not approved.

  26. “as old-fashioned for depicting women “either as passive beautiful objects or femmes fatales.”

    Last night I saw a commercial featuring a bunch of beautiful women begging me to call them for a small fee. Is it so old fashioned?

  27. I suspect Rico was afraid to add alt-text to the painting because he didn’t want to run into any problematic race, gender or representation issues.

    I don’t blame him.

  28. So buy it and put it in display in your own private art museum.

    Seriously, this is a public at museum that gets it’s budget from the city council. Aren’t y’all supposed to object to it *existing*?

    1. Are you being deliberately dense? Just because someone has a right to do something doesn’t mean their reasoning for doing it isn’t moronic and people shouldn’t criticize them for being morons.

      Besides, when did you become a champion of letting private entities do whatever they want and minding your own damn business? Seems pretty selective.

  29. Hylas was abducted by the nymphs, probably raped, and never seen again.

    Raped? I’m pretty sure he would have been consenting, vehemently, every step of the way.

  30. That’s one unserious art curator.

  31. Hylas and Hercules were not lovers. That’s profoundly revisionist.

  32. “…we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly.”

    To me, this is the most disturbing part of the article; that there is a “proper” way to think, implying that a thought with which another person disagrees is inherently wrong.

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