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

Hylas and the Nymphs 1896 John William Waterhouse 1849-1917 Oil on canvas Hylas was one of the Argonauts who sailed with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece. When the adventurers harboured at an island Hylas' task was to search for fresh water for the crew. He found a gladed spring and was filling his pitcher when he was encircled by water nymphs. Hypnotically, they drew him into the watery depths and although his friends searched for him, Hylas was never seen again. In Waterhouse's hands, a myth explaining the drowning of a youth amongst sinuous lily leaves and stems, becomes an evocation of sensual female flesh, an immersion into the deadly allure of the femme fatale. Purchased 1896.15