CUPID DELIVERING PSYCHE 1867
EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES, Bt.
76.2 x 91.5 (30 x 36)
and dated, EBJ 1867 (lower left)
Alexander Henderson, Ist Lord Faringdon, sale Sotheby's 13
June 1934 (100), bought Barbizon House for 200 gns.; Cecil
Old Water Colour Society, 1867 (132); New Gallery, 1892-3
(27); New Gallery, 1898-9 (137); Glasgow International Exhibition,
1901 (236); Tate Gallery, Centenary Exhibition, 1933
(12); Fulham 1967 (4); Arts Council 1975 (99); Fulham 1983
Spectator, 4 May 1867; Athenaeum, 4 May 1867; Bell, pp.38,39;
de Lisle, p.86; Harrison & Walters, caption to pl.27; J.Harding,
The Pre-Raphaelites, 1977, repr.p.89; Wildman, p.286.
kneeling at the left with naked right shoulder and breast,
facing right, is raised by the bending, red-winged Cupid who
embraces her, both are enfolded in his swirling red drapery.
To her left fumes rise from an open blue casket. Falling blossoms
are blown in from the right. In the background are arid mountains
and to the right the ghostly figure of Charon poles his ferry
back to Hades along the river Styx.
subject is taken from The Golden Ass by the 2nd century
Roman author Lucius Apuleius. Psyche, greatly abused by her
mistress, Venus, is returning from the underworld with a box
for Venus which, supposedly, contains some of Proserpine's
beauty. Overcome by curiosity she opens the box which actually
contains the sleep of Lethe which puts her into a deathly
trance. Cupid, her husband, flies to her rescue and awakens
her with a prick of his arrow.
painting is an easel version of one of Burne-Jones's designs
for woodcuts for The Story of Cupid and Psyche, a tale
in William Morris's poem The Earthly Paradise (1868-70),
adapted from Apuleius. Both woodcut and painting illustrate
the following lines:- "And kneeling down he whispered in her
ear,/Rise, Psyche, and be mine for evermore,/ For evil is
long tarrying on this shore." Morris deviated from Apuleius's
tale by allowing Cupid to arouse Psyche by whispering in her
ear rather than by touching her with his arrow, an alteration
which Burne-Jones followed in his illustration.
1865 Morris asked Burne-Jones to provide designs for woodcuts,
for The Earthly Paradise but although over 120 designs
were produced and 52 woodcuts for Cupid and Psyche
completed, the project was abandoned for technical reasons.
Two initial designs for the woodcut, 1865, (each 10.2 x 16),
are Nos. 76 and 77 in a bound volume in Birmingham City Art
Gallery (648'27). For a full discussion of the illustrations
see J.R.Dunlap, The Book that Never Was, New York,
are versions of the painting at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery,
Bedford, gouache (52.1 x 61) also 1867, and at Sheffield City
Art Galleries, oil (77.5 x 92.7) c.1871. The latter was formerly
in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, sold Christie's
6 June 1958 (99).
composition was later used as part of a frieze, now in Birmingham
City Art Gallery, for 1 Palace Green, the London home of George
Howard, which Burne-Jones painted from 1872-81. In 1876 Howard
commissioned Walter Crane (1845-1915) to assist Burne-Jones
with the completion of the frieze.
French owned another painting by Burne-Jones based on his
designs for The Earthly Paradise, a gouache of Cupid
finding Psyche (66.8 x 47.6), dated 1866, be-queathed
to the British Museum (1954-5-8-8). Another, more decorous,
version, with Psyche's breasts concealed (64.9 x 49.4), completed
in 1887, is in Manchester City Art Gallery.