Lot 63
  • 63

William Bouguereau

1,800,000 - 2,200,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • William-Adolphe Bouguereau
  • L'amour et psyché
  • signed W-BOUGUEREAU and dated 1899 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 86 1/8 by 50 7/8 in.
  • 218.7 by 129.2 cm


Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, no. 849 (with incorrect measurements) (acquired directly from the artist on March 22, 1899)
Jacques Olry (acquired from the above through his agent on May 10, 1899)
M. Clérin, Brussels (circa 1949)
Galerie Robiony, Nice (circa 1977)
Max Schweitzer Galleries, New York 
Meitetsu Department Store, Nagoya (1978)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in September 1978


Paris, Salon, 1899, no. 260
Paris, Exposition Universelle, 1900, no. 242, as Psyché et l'Amour  (lent by Jacques Olry)


"Les Artistes Poitevins et Charentais au Salon," Mercure Poitevin, Littérature, Art, Histoire, Paris, 1899, vol. II, p. 369
"Nos Notes Aux Salons," Bulletin de la Société des Archives Historiques, Revue de la Saintonge et de l'Aunis, Paris, 1899, p. 216
L'Art à l'Exposition universelle de 1900, Paris, 1900, p. 158
Exposition universelle de 1900: catalogue officiel illustré de l'exposition décennale des beaux-arts de 1889 à 1900, Paris, 1900, p. 244, illustrated p. 133
Exposition Internationale Universelle de 1900, Catalogue général officiel, Paris, 1900, vol. II, p. 21
Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 157 (under 1898)
Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck and Frank Moore Colby, eds., The New International Encylopedia, New York, 1902, vol. III, p. 296
Gustave Haller, Le Salon: dix ans de peinture, Paris, 1902, vol. II, p. 193
Mark Steven Walker, "William-Adolphe Bouguereau, A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings," William-Adolphe Bouguereau, L'Art Pompier, exh. cat., Borghi & Co., New York, 1992, p. 75


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This large and impressive painting is in beautiful condition. The canvas has been lined with Beva-371 as an adhesive and the surface is in lovely condition as a result. Retouches are almost entirely confined to an area in the clouds beneath the legs of Psyché and beneath his left foot. There are no retouches in the figures themselves or in the remainder of the picture. The reason for the small and accurate retouches in the clouds is to diminish some slight thinness which may have become more noticeable over the years. The picture should be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

William Bouguereau arrived in Paris from the provinces in 1846 at the age of 20; he was determined to build a career as an artist. He immediately joined the atelier of the esteemed painter François-Édouard Picot, and soon after persuaded Picot to recommend him for entry to the École des Beaux-Arts. While he was barely accepted, placing ninety-ninth out of 100 applicants, Bouguereau went on to achieve extraordinary fame and popularity, becoming one of the most critically and commercially successful painters of his day.

By 1899, the year L'Amour et Psychè was painted, Bouguereau had attained a level of success likely unimaginable for a once quiet boy from a modest family in La Rochelle. He had received countless medals at various juried exhibitions both in France and abroad; secured numerous important public and private commissions; was named professor at the École des Beaux-Arts; and was made Officer of the Légion d'honneur, one of the most prestigious decorations in France.  Painted in the last decade of the 19th century,  L'Amour et Psyché embodies the culmination of Bouguereau's long and successful career.  It displays his consummate artistic ability, particularly in rendering the human form, where his two protagonists appear as if created by real flesh and bone rather than paint and brush.  From a commercial point of view,  L'Amour et Psyché represents Bouguereau's keen understanding of contemporary popular taste, an appreciation which had evolved throughout his career. In fact, this painting is almost the polar opposite of his monumental early masterpiece, Dante et Virgile aux Enfers from 1850, the type of painting he himself acknowledged would never appeal to the main-stream art buying public. (see Bouguereau's interview in the paper, L'Éclair, 9 May 1891).

Our painting is closely related to two other versions of the subject painted earlier in Bouguereau's career. In 1889, he created Psyché et l'Amour (fig.1), his first life-size version of the mythological lovers as young adults hovering mid-air. That same year he created another version of this subject, L'Amour et Psyché, enfants (fig.2), this time depicting the characters as young children resting on, rather than soaring through, the clouds, with Cupid pulling a reluctant Psyche toward him for a kiss. Five years later Bouguereau returned to the theme of the two lovers as young adults, creating Le ravissement de Psyché (1895) (fig.3), which also features a full-size Cupid and Psyche traveling to Cupid's celestial lair. Bouguereau's repeated return to this subject of young adult lovers featured in a large-scale, full-size format attests to its enduring popularity and the artist's personal satisfaction with his interpretation of it.    

The tale of Cupid and Psyche greatly appealed to turn-of-the-century audiences for its obvious themes of love, beauty, jealousy and perseverance; with the ultimate conclusion that love conquers all.  As the story goes, Psyche, a young mortal woman of exceptional beauty, drives the powerful goddess of Love, Venus, into a jealous rage. Venus in turn commands her son Cupid to use his famous golden arrow to make Psyche fall eternally in love with a monster. Cupid approaches Psyche in her sleep and, upon seeing her, is too overcome with her beauty, accidentally scratching himself with his arrow. Victim of his own trickery, he falls deeply in love with the human girl. After a complex series of trials and tests created by Venus to destroy Psyche, the young mortal woman prevails and she and Cupid are united in a marriage blessed by Jupiter. Psyche is ultimately transformed into a goddess.

In L'Amour et Psyché, the two figures are a physical embodiment of the transportive power of love, as Cupid is literally moving Psyche through the air, away from Earthly hardships, and toward a celestial world.  Cupid's role as Psyche's protector is reinforced by his lean physical strength and broad, outstretched wings. Psyche, appearing demure in his firm embrace, is often identified by butterfly wings, as her name in Greek literally means "soul" or "butterfly," and she has come to represent the human spirit's ability to emerge from darkness. She is particularly striking in her distinctly feminine physique, which is accentuated by her position in Cupid's arms.  The origins of this pose are found in a preparatory drawing (fig.4); it is also interesting to note that Bouguereau's decision to show the back of Psyche rather than the frontal pose of the 1889 and 1895 versions, recalls an earlier motif that he used in his 1884, L'Etoile perdue (fig. 5 and see L. d'Argencourt, William Bouguereau, 1825-1905, exh. cat., Montreal, 1984, p. 120, fig. 57).  Additionally, Bouguereau worked out the final composition by repeating the two figures in a variety of interchangeable poses on separate sheets of drawings.  Once he had settled on the final composition, he made a small, almost "impressionistic" oil sketch to determine his color choices.  The last step of the process was to complete a large cartoon on blue paper, close to the scale of the final painting.  All of these preparatory works are in a private French collection.

The first owner of L'Amour et psyche was a French political figure named Jacques Olry (1833-1901).  He was a representative at the French Assemblée nationale, defending the rural, conservative and clerical bourgeoisie.  Jacques Olry was married to Léonie Roederer (1839-1887), the daughter of a famous Champagne merchant in Rheims.  In 1901, Bouguereau also painted the portrait of their daughter-in-law, Mathilde Olry-Roederer.