In 1950 Grant and Vanessa Bell were commissioned to make panels of painted tiles to decorate the walls of the Garden Hostel Annexe, King's College, Cambridge, by its architect Geddes Hyslop. Grant's first idea for a large panel in the entrance is the present work. However, its nudity was objected to on the grounds that it was highly vulnerable to student graffitti. A subsequent design of a nude male figure with an artfully placed book was eventually used.
Hylas, son of Heracles (according to Ovid), was famed for his beauty and, on going to fetch water from a pool during military manoeuvres, was captured by resident nymphs who pulled him from the bank. Perhaps the most famous representation of the episode is J.W. Waterhouse's more decorous painting of 1896 (Manchester City Art Galleries).