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4 CUPID DELIVERING PSYCHE 1867

SIR EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES, Bt.
1833-1898

Psyche, 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.

 

 


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4 CUPID DELIVERING PSYCHE 1867

SIR EDWARD COLEY BURNE-JONES, Bt.
1833-1898

Gouache, 76.2 x 91.5 (30 x 36)

Signed and dated, EBJ 1867 (lower left)

Provenance: Alexander Henderson, Ist Lord Faringdon, sale Sotheby's 13 June 1934 (100), bought Barbizon House for 200 gns.; Cecil French.

Exhibited: 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 (6).

Literature: 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.

Psyche, 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.

The 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.

The 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.

In 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, 1971.

There 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).

The 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.

Cecil 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.

 

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