One of the few pleasures of working as a consultant at the Conservative party’s campaign HQ, on the bank of the Thames, over 2006-8, was being only a short walking distance from Tate Britain. Once or twice a week I’d buy lunch there and stroll around some of the rooms, and I was always uplifted by the experience. Among my favourite rooms were those dedicated to masterpieces by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Many were of hauntingly beautiful women, so after ‘darts girls’ and ‘Formula 1 girls’ it was perhaps inevitable the Pre-Raphaelites would be in feminists’ sights.
The John William Waterhouse painting Hylas and the Nymphs has been removed from the walls of Manchester Art Gallery to ‘prompt conversations’. A Guardian piece on the matter is here. An extract, emphases are ours:
The painting was taken down on Friday and replaced with a notice explaining that a temporary space had been left “to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection”. Members of the public have stuck Post-it notes around the notice giving their reaction.
Clare Gannaway, the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, said the aim of the removal was to provoke debate, not to censor. “It wasn’t about denying the existence of particular artworks.”
The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.
Gannaway said the title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.
“For me personally, [J4MB: Because this is all about you, toots…] there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere … we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.”