Manchester Art Gallery

Hylas and the Nymphs

Object description

Mythological scene from the ancient Greek tale of Jason and the Argonauts, showing Hylas being tempted to his death by water nymphs. A young man, with short dark hair, kneels at the edge of a bank to the left, dressed in blue drapery with a red sash around his waist, a jug in his left hand. He leans forward towards one of the naked nymphs in the water, who holds onto his arm. She is surrounded by six more nymphs, all young naked girls who are nearly identical to one another. They wear white and yellow flowers entwined in their long dark hair and are gazing at him from the water. The water's dark surface is covered with lily pads and flowers, the gaps between the plants revealing the water’s translucence, showing underwater lily stalks and further glimpses of the nymphs’ pale upper bodies. The scene is viewed almost from above: the top of the picture shows no sky, only the brown tree roots and deep green foliage that line the water’s edge.

Display label

Whose Power on Display?

A group of Manchester Art Gallery staff, artist-collaborators and gallery users worked with artist Sonia Boyce to start a process of change. We are exploring how the politics of class, gender, race and sexuality in the gallery’s historic collection displays can be reconsidered for today. Six Acts is part of an ongoing public conversation asking what we may miss if contemplating works of art solely for their aesthetic or narrative qualities.

Works on display in this gallery often use classical myth to perpetuate Victorian myths of gender and power. They can expose power relationships at play in art and society and reveal some of the stereotypes and inequalities that shape people’s lives. The current labels could be seen as limiting, as there are many different ways to understand these works of art.

The gallery is a place where we question the present as much as the past. Art shapes as well as reflects society, so how we redisplay this gallery is important and open for discussion.