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“Hylas and the Nymphs” by John William Waterhouse

"Hylas and the Nymphs" by John William Waterhouse

“Hylas and the Nymphs” by John William Waterhouse

“Hylas and the Nymphs” by John William Waterhouse portrays the abduction of Hylas by water nymphs. Hylas, according to classical mythology, was as a youth who served as Heracles’ companion and servant. 

Hylas was kidnapped by nymphs of the spring, who had fallen in love with him, and he vanished without a trace. According to one ancient author, Heracles never found Hylas because he had fallen in love with the nymphs and remained “to share their power and their love.”

According to legend, the loss of Hylas extremely upset Heracles, and he searched for a long time for his companion. Heracles had recruited Hylas as his arms bearer and had taught him to be a warrior:

“He taught him all the things which had made him a mighty man, and famous.”

Heracles had also taken Hylas with him on the Argo, making him one of the Argonauts. His abduction by water nymphs was a theme of ancient art and has been an enduring subject for Western classical art.

Waterhouse worked in the Pre-Raphaelite style, several decades after the breakup of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which included artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt.

Waterhouse embraced the Pre-Raphaelite style even though it had gone out of fashion in the British art scene.


The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848. The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy. They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas.

A later, medieval influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

Hylas and the Nymphs

  • Title:            Hylas and the Nymphs
  • Artist:          John William Waterhouse
  • Medium:     Oil on canvas
  • Date:           1896
  • Style:           Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions: 132.1 × 197.5 cm (52 × 77.8 in)
  • Museum:     Manchester Art Gallery

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Hylas And The Nymphs by John William Waterhouse


“Art is not a study of positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
– John Ruskin


Photo Credit: John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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