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Title Study for Venus and Psyche
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Courbet, Gustave (French painter and designer, 1819-1877)
Date Earliest about 1863
Date Latest about 1865
Signed yes
Description For the Salon of 1864, Courbet submitted a picture entitled Venus jealously pursuing Psyche (destroyed in Berlin during the Second World War, another version in Bern) which depicted Venus in the same pose, clambering onto the bed of the sleeping, naked Psyche to the left. This painting, a study for the sleeping Psyche and the two finished works relate to another picture of 1866, Woman with a Parrot (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) where the same bed with the twisted columns appears.

According to the classical myth, the mortal maiden Psyche was so beautiful that she even aroused Venus's envy. It was unusual for Courbet to use a mythological title. He normally painted only things seen. 'Show me an angel and I will paint it', he famously declared. However, the respectable mythological title disguised an underlying theme of lesbianism which had attracted many French (male) writers and artists throughout the nineteenth century.

The jury of the Paris Salon promptly rejected the picture on the grounds of indecency. At this stage in his career, Courbet commented, 'If that picture is immoral, we ought to shut up all the museums in Italy, France and Spain.'

Current Accession Number 1949P1
Former Accession Number P.149
Inscription front ll 'G. Courbet'
Subject figure; mythology (Venus, Psyche)
Measurements 81.7 x 65.8 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Purchased from Alex Reid & Lefevre 1949.
Provenance Theo Behrens, Hamburg; Skalle, Berlin; Hans Weisse, Sagen; Mrs S. Kaye.
Principal Exhibitions Courbet Retrospective Exhibition, 1906; 19th Century French Painting, National Gallery, London, 1942, cat. no. 16 as Psyche; Delacroix to Dufy; Lefevre Gallery, 1946, cat. no. 10; Past and Present, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1987-8; French Impressionism: Treasures of the Midlands, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1991, cat. no. 8.
Publications Meier-Graefe, J., Courbet, 1921, p. 44; Illustrations, 1952, p. 9, ill.; Foreign Paintings in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, A Summary Catalogue, 1983, no. 37, ill.
Notes Study for the painting Venus & Psyche (one version, formerly in the Gerstenberg Collection, Berlin, destroyed, another in Kunst Museum, Bern also known as Le Reveil). Another study of a recumbent Psyche is in the Daber Collection, Paris.

Labels on reverse of stretcher. 1. James Bourlet M25533; 2. 2 labels with nos. 5956 asnd 235/42 in ink; 3. J. Chenue/ French Packer. Gt. St. Andrews St. Shaftesbury Ave. London, inscribed Matthieson; 4. Kunstmuseum, Bern 1962/ Ausstellung Courbet no. 37.
Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth
 

 

 

 

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