This sculpture portrays a scene from ancient Greek mythology. It shows Hylas the son of King Theiodamas, a youth of renowned beauty. After Hercules killed the youth’s father in a dual, he took Hylas on as his weapon-bearer. He eventually became Hercules favourite companion and lover, accompanying on all his adventures, including aboard the Argo. Leslie's portrayal of Hylas as an androgynous, lithe and petite youth, is particularly distinctive.
The sculpture depicts the moment when a nymph reaches up from beneath the water to grab Hylas. The nymph had been sent by the Goddess Hera as part of her campaign to punish Hercules. She had devising a plot to take Hylas from him. One evening Hylas wandered off from camp to fetch water from a spring. Lurking just below the surface was Hera’s nymph who became so overcome with desire for the beautiful youth that she grabbed him and pulled him under. The nymph swam him to her underground cavern and along with her sisters seduced him. On dry land Hercules was desolate at his beloved’s disappearance, but after searching high and low, he eventually continued his labours alone.
Leslie was born in Camberwell, London. He was the son of a grocer. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools and was later elected to the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
The sculpture was purchased by the gallery from the artist in 1910.