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

Gallery text panel In Pursuit of Beauty Late Victorian Art and Design Improving the quality of British art and design had been a concern since the 1850s. The British Empire had expanded into new continents but it was the classical ideal of beauty, based on Ancient Greek and Roman culture that was still considered the model for serious art. The pursuit of beauty was a form of escapism from the mass-production of industrial Britain. As well as looking to the ancient world, artists and designers were delighted and inspired by the arts of Renaissance Italy, the Middle and Far East. Many of the paintings here feature a beautiful woman. Sometimes she is a passive, decorative form, but often she is a dark and brooding femme fatale, a symbol of seduction, deception and destruction. The 'fatal woman' may reflect late Victorian male fears as women campaigned for equal rights and new roles. The emphasis on colour, harmony and rhythm and simplifying the form of an object would become major concerns in the 20th century. They can be seen emerging here in the work of late Victorian artists and designers.