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Jean-Honoré Fragonard: 'Psyche showing her Sisters her Gifts from Cupid'

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This painting illustrates an episode from the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche, which was originally told by Apuleius in his 'Golden Ass'. It is an early work by Fragonard, executed in 1753, the year after he had won the Prix de Rome and before his first Italian visit. An immediate success, it was exhibited with other paintings at Versailles in 1754, but later passed into obscurity with an attribution to Carle van Loo. At some date it was cut down along the top and left sides.

Fragonard's work is probably based on La Fontaine's version of the fable. After falling in love with Psyche, Cupid had visited her only at night, forbidding her to look upon him. In the painting, Psyche shows her two sisters the gifts she has received from her lover, and moved by jealousy - a Fury appears in the sky above the sisters - they persuade her to uncover Cupid's identity and thus wreck her happiness.

The painting shows the emergence of Fragonard's more elegant style from the manner established by Boucher, whose pupil he had been. In many details it derives from sketches made by Boucher in 1737 for a series of tapestries illustrating this story, but there is more movement in Fragonard's painting and his colours are sharper.

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From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Thirty Five, September 2009

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