The Wallace Collection

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Psyche
  • Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725 - 1805)
  • Psyche
  • France
  • c. 1786
  • Painting
  • Oil on mahogany panel
  • Image size: 41 x 32 cm
  • P440
  • Boudoir
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • Like many painters, Greuze had produced studies of individual heads as drawings and in oil from early in his career. Some of them were nature studies, others specifically prepared figures in his larger narrative paintings. From the late 1770s, these 'expressive heads' developed into a separate genre, often erotically charged, and into a main field of his activities. Greuze's heads exist in large numbers, and he developed them more systematically after he had fallen out with the Academy. Many of them were executed by studio members, and there are general questions of attribution concerning the group.
    Greuze expressed his periods interest in strong emotions and sentiments. Expressive heads had a long tradition in France, starting from the teachings of Charles Lebrun who, in 1668, had proposed to codify the expression of specific passions in an Academy lecture. His teachings were published in 1698. Many of Greuze's heads directly refer to Lebrun's models, others develop expressions independently. This painting follows Lebrun's 'Amour simple'.
    This painting links a head study with a mythological subject. For artists in the eighteenth century the story of Cupid and Psyche symbolised the union of physical love (Cupid) with the soul (Psyche). Here Psyche is shown in sorrow at Cupid's desertion. A second version, dated 1786, is also in the Wallace Collection (P388).