Gustave Courbet – Venus Et Psyche (venus And Psyche)

COURBET talked very seriously of painting a series of anti-clerical pictures. “If you see him,” wrote Champfleury to Buchon in November, 1863, ” try to keep him in the country as long as possible. He needs contact with Nature. He has been telling Sainte-Beuve that he is going to paint another picture of the priests. To my mind he is making a great mistake, and you know that I am no disciple of Saint Vincent-de-Paul. . Whatever he may say, ‘Le Retour de la Conférence was a setback. Courbet must paint landscapes, domestic subjects; that is what he can do; but, in Heaven’s name, keep him from symbolism and satire for which he is not in the least fitted!”

The artist only partially renounced his project and his “Coucher de la Conférence ” is to be found in a series of vignettes for the pamphlet “Les Curés en goguette,” which was published in Brussels in 1868. It was much against his will that he refrained from symbolism and satire, as Champfleury had rightly warned him. In January, 1864, he began, so he says, a new “epic picture a subject after my own heart!” This was the “Source d’Hippocréne,” ” an allusion to the condition of contemporary poetry, a serious, though avowedly humorous, piece of criticism.” But the picture was destroyed by accident just as the artist had grown weary of his new joke and so it was that the poets escaped the fate which had already overtaken the priests.

By way of employing the short time he had left before the exhibition, the artist, no doubt with his mind full of the figure of the “Source,” returned to one of his favourite themes, the female nude. In a thoroughly literary frame of mind he christened his picture “Vénus poursuivant Psyché de sa jalousie.” But only the title is an abnegation of Courbet’s hatred of fabulous subjects. His figures are represented in a purely Second Empire setting. “There are,” he wrote,” two nude women painted life-size in an entirely new style—for me.” And the picture does reveal a curious development of the artist’s talent. He has changed his frank, rather coarse craftsmanship, rather unhappily, for smooth clear painting and a more cramped and circumscribed design.

The picture was not finished in time for the Salon but it was ‘shown in the Brussels exhibition of 1864. It was bought for 18,000 francs by M. Lepel-Cointet. The parrot for which there is very little explanation, disappeared from the picture in the replica that was painted subsequently.