- Museum number
Psyche trying to prevent Cupid from leaving. c.1784
Pen and black ink, grey wash, with charcoal, heightened with white, on two joined pieces of buff paper
- Production date
Height: 292 millimetres
Width: 259 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Although few works can be definitively dated to Prud'hon's early years, his biography reveals an ambitious young man determined to rise above his provincial roots and find success in the French capital. Born the tenth son of a stone carver in the Burgundian town of Cluny, Prud'hon was awarded a scholarship to study at the École de Dessin in Dijon under François Devosge (1732-1811). In 1776 he was introduced to the Baron de Joursanvault (1748-92), a patron of the arts who commissioned works from Prud'hon and would sponsor his period of study in Paris from 1780 to 1783.
Prud'hon's independent spirit and resistance to instruction is evident in his correspondence from Paris. He enrolled at the Ecole des Élèves Protégés, but he chose not to work in the studio of an established painter, as many of the students did. He lodged with Jean-Raphaël Fauconnier, a lace merchant whom he befriended, and appears to have been romantically involved with Fauconnier's sister, Marie. In order to compete for the Dijon Prix de Rome, Prud'hon returned to Burgundy in late 1783. Writing to Fauconnier in 1783-4, Prud'hon mentioned that he was sending some drawings or paintings. Charles Clément, in his 1872 monograph on the artist, identified these works as the present sheet and its pendant, `Psyche Watching Cupid Asleep`.(n.1)
Although earlier works survive, the BM sheet is the first where we glimpse Prud'hon's genius. The influence of his first master, Devosge, remains evident in the elegant ink contours and delicate modelling in wash, as well as the restrained, late Rococo sensibility,(n.3) with the overlay of a new awareness of nascent Neoclassicism in the architectural elements and tightly orchestrated planar composition. The sensuality of the intertwined figures has also been compared to Primaticcio.(n.4) Moreover, the pair of Psyche drawings are among the earliest manifestation of Prud'hon's attraction to subjects of erotic mythology and allegory.(n.5) The story of Psyche, in particular, which he would return to in 1808 with `Psyche Carried off by the Zephyrs` (Musée du Louvre, Paris), embodied the fleeting nature of love and the complications of amorous entanglements. As his allegories of the years of the Revolution and the Republic would make explicit, love, for Prud'hon, was often accompanied by remorse and regret, themes not unrelated perhaps to his own life, encumbered by an early and unhappy marriage in 1778 to Jeanne Pennet, already pregnant with their first child.
Lit.: P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no. 67 (with previous literature).
1 Cited in S. Laveissière, exhib.cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, `Pierre-Paul Prud'hon`, 1997, pp.43-4. A copy of the sale catalogue has not been located.
2 C. Clément, `Prud'hon, Sa vie, ses oeuvres et sa correspondance`, Paris, 1880, p.83 note 1. For the pendant, see Laveissière, 1997, op.cit., pp.43-5, fig.7a, as 'location unknown'.
3 See E. Guffey, ` Drawing an Elusive Line: The Art of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon`, Newark and London, 2001, pp.17, 19, figs 1 and 2.
4 Laveissière, 1997, op.cit., p.45.
5 Echoes of the Psyche composition can be found a decade later in `Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar`, private collection, illustrated in J. Elderfield and R. Gordon, `The Language of the Body: Drawings by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon`, New York, 1996, p.25.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1991 Jan-April, BM, Recent Acquisitions (no cat.)
1990 April-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.)
1997/8 Sept-Jan, Paris, Grand Palais, 'Pierre-Paul Prud'hon', cat.7
1998 Mar-Jun, New York, Met Mus of Art, 'Pierre-Paul Prud'hon'
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 67
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 67
2015 July-Sep, BM, 'Unity and Simplicity: Neoclassicism in Europe'.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number