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“Hylas and the Nymphs” by John William Waterhouse

Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs Manchester Art Gallery 1896.15

“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.

Exploring Pre-Raphaelite Art

Reflections

  • What is the metaphor of this painting and story?
  • Why was this subject so popular with artists?

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

John William Waterhouse

  • Artist:          John William Waterhouse
  • Movement:  Pre-Raphaelite
  • Born:            1849 – Rome, Papal States
  • Died:            1917 (aged 67) – London, England, United Kingdom
  • Nationality:  British
  • Notable works:

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    “Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.”
    – Queen Victoria

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