• gerard van weyenbergh

Correctness, an excuse to remove paintings in museums?

The Manchester Art Gallery has decided to take down the painting "Hylas and the Nymphs," painted in 1869 by British artist John William Waterhouse in the 19th century. The painting showing seductive naked naiads, to launch a debate on sexism. The museum invited visitors to write their opinion on women's representation in the Victorian era, either as a decorative passive form or as femme fatale to make works of art speak in a more contemporary and relevant way.

Instead, visitors mostly expressed their displeasure by accusing the museum of censoring the painting under the pretext of placing it in a new context. This Pre-Raphaelite painting was exhibited in a room titled "Search for Beauty", bringing together works representing many naked women. Still, for Clare Gannaway, the curator behind this questionable initiative taken under the influence of the female movement #MeToo, this title was problematic since it only concerned male artists interested in women's bodies. At the same time, she forgets that in the middle of the 19th century, it was still more than frowned upon for a woman to attend a painting academy.

The scandal born from the Harvey Weinstein affair - Hollywood sexual predator - opened the floodgates of an endless stream of actions against sexism to now generate grand-grotesque situations. In New York, we saw feminist organizations campaigned to force the Met to remove from its picture rails "Thérèse Rêvant", a painting by Balthus showing a pubescent girl considered an invitation to pedophilia.

Certainly, indeed, Waterhouse's painting of topless nymphs tempting Hylas to lead him to his death largely conveys the fantasies of a Victorian society confronted with a number of prohibitions often circumvented in various ways by men trapped by the application of their own puritanical morality and this, on the backs of women, forced by them to make it respect but rectify history, however, is something impossible to do except to recognize that each era has brought with it inequalities that are unacceptable today. Without going back to prehistoric times for lack of the existence of proven testimonies, we can only note that the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Barbarians and other peoples who succeeded each other until beyond the middle of the twentieth century have all been guilty of unspeakable crimes and injustices. However, demanding that their descendants pay for or repent of these faults does not seem really tolerable except that we often forget that this kind of punishment was first inflicted on the Jews when the Church had decreed at the beginning of the 4th century that they were collectively responsible for the death of Christ, in the Jewish passage itself, to sow the seeds of an anti-Semitism which had become ineradicable to the point of leading to their extermination decided by this monster that was Adolf Hitler with the consent of a German people who had become robotic. Therefore, we cannot erase the twelve terrible years of the bloodthirsty 3rd Reich while recognizing that Germany has managed to overcome a deep trauma to become today an exemplary democracy. All this to say that history cannot suffer from any form of revisionism.

Therefore, it is inconceivable to remove from a museum a painting over a century old on the pretext that it would represent a woman in a dominated position. Showing a man of color reduced to slavery in his time or another scene, which would be judged to insult the decorum criteria that is now being tried to impose on us. On this account, many museums would be forced to store hundreds of works, starting with the Louvre including the "Mona Lisa" of Leonardo da Vinci would risk ending up being interpreted as the symbol of the submissive woman, forced to wear a smile of contentment masking the pain of a battered wife or simply because she would have suffered the appalling torture of having to pose for hours without blinking, enough to rank the artist among the worst torturers in history.

artcult.com - Adrian Boy Darmon