It’s never any fun being late to a party. Most of the guests are drunk and belligerent, and you’re forced to either play catch-up and slam as many tinnies in as short a time as possible, or sit down and pretend that the ramblings of a drunkard are interesting conversation as you nurse a glass of mineral water. In the case of this article, I’m very much late when it comes to having a moan and spewing out a lengthy diatribe about the censoring of Waterhouse’s ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’. The painting was taken down (read, censored) by the Manchester Art Gallery on the 27th of January and subsequently rehung on the 3rd of February after public outcry over the immense idiocy of the decision. Well, “idiocy” if you take the Hanlon’s Razor approach to the decision.
Of course, here at The Dingoes, we know better than to approach the subject in such a manner.
One only needs to take a look at the gallery’s presumably lesbian curator, Clare Gannaway, in order to understand the ideological basis of the decision and the oppurtunistic manner in which it was undertaken. The pretext for the decision to take down the painting, “to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection”, is obviously false, but it bears examination as to why this particular work was chosen, rather than countless others which “presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale”, as Gannaway put it.
A stupid attempt to "prompt a conversation" for stupid people.
A very minor art history lesson is in order. Waterhouse’s work broadly falls into the category of Romanticism by virtue of its classical subject matter and focus on the sublime nature of the human body having been made in God’s image, with Waterhouse having been inspired by the pre-Raphaelites, inparticular the medievalists Edward Burne-Jones, Frederic Leighton and by extension Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Romanticism as an artistic movement is important in particular due to its focus on the transcendent and on beauty in nature, on the presence of God in all things, and for its focus on the Faustian aspect of humanity – the feeling of awe, and indeed existential terror inspired by the limitless frontier of the New World.
I feel like some sort of dullard, since I want to mouth platitudes about Romantic art being “inherently white”, but the thing is...it just sort of is. European people tend to have this sort of primeval reaction to it. Their breath is taken away, they get sucked into the painting. Most people do, really, and that most people are so in awe of the subject matter is what makes this interesting. As I said earlier, any number of paintings which “presented the female body as a passive decorative art form” could have been censored by the Manchester Art Gallery, but it was ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ in particular that was chosen for one simple reason. Knowingly, or unknowingly, this is as assault on the type of artwork that the regular Briton most enjoys. It is not an attack on, or an attempt to censor, some sort of “antiquated” view of women in response to, or support of, the #MeToo movement/hashtag. It is an attack on that which the white man enjoys most and identifies most closely with, on a very base level. Regular people may have been alienated from the art world for the better half of the twentieth century and beyond, but they still have a simple aesthetic taste which is generally immune to the more intellectualized and degenerate forms of visual arts.
Albert Bierstadt, Buffalo Trail: The Impending Storm, 1869, oil on canvas (Luminism)
Lord Frederic Leighton, Perseus and Andromeda, 1891, oil on panel (Neoclassicism)
Hermann Ottomar Herzog, Storm in the Mountains, unknown date, oil on canvas (Romanticism)
Hacker Arthur, The Temptation of Sir Percival, 1894, oil on canvas (Pre-Raphaelite)
There are other methods of picking apart Gannaway’s narrative that the mainstream media and other commentors already picked up on. One of them is that Hylas was engaged in a homosexual relationship with Heracles, and therefore his being tempted by the water nymphs takes on a different tone, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the regular power dynamic of heterosexual relations, which an avowed feminist such as Gannaway would be opposed to. That perhaps a painting depcting several nude female bodies in a section of the gallery titled ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’ could be interpreted as a sort of pro-sexuality feminist statement, or even a Lunar age worshipping of the earth mother figure (OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch).
In the end, such arguments as well as a fairly vocal anti-censorship outcry from the public resulted in the painting being rehung. The gallery blog’s comment section, normally a desolte wasteland, received over 700 posts over the course of a week, not to mention the outcry and social media and the outpour of articles related to the subject. The probing attempt to deconstruct and erase a symbol of white, European civilsation was a failure.
However, one cannot rest on one’s laurels, simply because they have successfully defended a single, small symbol of European identity. Cultural marxists of all colours will continue in their attempts to erase the past achievements of our civilisation, and each attempt at doing so must be met with an even greater outcry and fury than what was displayed here. For this is not just an attack on a single painting, or a single type of depiction of women. It is an attack on all things that make European civilisation great, an attack on all things that make us who we are, an attack not only on our culture, but our very identity at a spiritual level. It is an attempt on the part of the forces of ugliness and darkness, to triumph over the forces of beauty and light, if you’ll forgive the melodramatic tone. This is why a Romantic painting being hung in a section of the gallery titled ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’ offends them so. It is a testament to the beauty of European civilisation and Faustian man.
Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818, oil on canvas