Sotheby’s Auction of 19th Century European Art Features Recently Discovered Work

. February 27, 2010

Sotheby’s New York will bring to the market a superb work by iconic French Academic painter William Bouguereau. L’Amour et Psyché, dated 1899, is estimated at $1.8/2.2 million and will be featured in the 23 April sale of 19th Century European Art.

Sold from a Distinguished Private Collection, the painting has been off the market for almost half a century. Its last known public exhibition was at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.

Throughout his career, Bouguereau repeatedly interpreted the subject of Love – drawing inspiration from key figures in Greek mythology such as Cupid, Venus, and Psyché. While many of Bouguereau’s compositions featuring this subject depict an adult maiden surrounded by cherubic putti; a child Cupid taunting a more mature Venus; or both Cupid and Psyché as children, L’Amour et Psyché shows the mythological lovers Cupid and Psyché as young adults, one of only three known versions of this subject. Complementing the rarity of the subject matter is its size; the two characters are almost larger than life, a powerful visual effect made even more dramatic by their apparent suspension mid-air. The large scale draws attention to Bouguereau’s superior technical skill; both figures are strikingly life-like, their skin and musculature carefully modeled to suggest living bodies.

The tale of Cupid and Psyché greatly appealed to turn-of-the-century audiences for its obvious themes of love, beauty, jealousy and perseverance and the ultimate conclusion that love conquers all. Psyché, a young mortal woman of exceptional beauty, drives the powerful goddess of Love, Venus, into a jealous rage, who in turn commands her son Cupid to use his famous golden arrow to make her fall eternally in love with a monster. Cupid is too overcome with her beauty, and accidentally scratches himself with his arrow, falling deeply in love with the human girl. After a complex series of trials and tests created by Venus to destroy Psyché, the young mortal woman prevails and she and Cupid are united in a marriage blessed by Jupiter and Psyché is transformed into a goddess.

In L’Amour et Psyché Bouguereau depicts the “ravishing” of Psyché, or the taking of her by Cupid to his celestial lair. Representing the transportive power of Love, Cupid literally moves Psyché through the air, away from Earthly hardships, and toward a divine haven for their love. Cupid’s role as Psyché’s protector is reinforced by his lean physical strength and broad, outstretched wings. Psyché is often represented by butterfly wings, as her name in Greek literally means “soul” or “butterfly.” She has come to represent the human spirit’s ability to emerge from darkness.

Image: William Bouguereau, “L’Amour et Psyché”, 1899, Est. $1.8/2.2 million. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Category: Fine Art

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