Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden depicts a scene from Greek myth: the beautiful Psyche (whose name means "Soul" or "Breath of Life") entering the garden owned by Cupid, the god of Love.
Painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style, the picture shows Psyche peering in wonder at the strange and beautiful scene in front of her: a palatial mansion among green lawns, graceful trees and a profusion of roses and other flowers, populated by Cupid's unseen servants.
She tentatively pushes at the garden gate, lured by this beautiful image of nature. The thick bushes to her right block eyes out, other than from around the gate, as the young woman peers in. What awaits this beauty within the garden? We are left in suspense as she prepares to enter.
Psyche wears a traditional robe, pinkish in tone to accentuate her own femininity. Her hair is tied behind her head, and her dress hangs elegantly from her slim body, with her feet cropped out from the scene. The period in which this scene is based is continued with the ornate touches of detail found on the arch which surrounds the gate.
Artist Waterhouse would regularly call upon themes such as this within his work, and found them to complement perfectly his technical skills as a portrait painter. Typically he would reduce the story down to a single figure portrait, adding elements from the narrative as supporting features within the composition.
He was known for favouring particular models and using them over and over again. The slim, red-haired lady depicted here, for example, would be seen again in other portraits from around this time. Waterhouse did take on commissioned pieces from time to time, but his most famous artworks tended to rely on his own models.
John William Waterhouse was born in Italy to English parents. Although he returned to England in later life, the artist spent his formative years in Italy and this seems to have influenced his choice of subjects; Waterhouse often painted scenes from ancient Rome and from classical mythology.
Although he began painting decades after the end of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood proper, Waterhouse became a passionate devotee of the Pre-Raphaelite style of art.
The Story of Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden
In the story, Psyche is cursed by the jealous Venus to marry a fire-breathing dragonlike mosntrosity. Cupid, the god of Love, is supposed to enact the curse but accidentally scratches himself with his own arrow. Instead of making Psyche fall in love with a terrifying monster, Cupid finds himself in love with Psyche.
Rather than accept a monster for a son-in-law, Psyche's family abandon her on a mountaintop to die. Instead, she finds herself carried away to a peaceful meadow. Nearby is a splendid mansion with a garden full of flowers, where Psyche is waited on by invisible servants who care for her every need. When night comes, her mysterious suitor arrives.
It's too dark to see his face, but he's gentle and kind -- hardly the monster she's been led to expect. She agrees to marry him and he spends the night with her but is gone when she wakes up. This becomes Psyche's married life: she spends every night with her new husband, although he never permits her to see his face.
Large Image of Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden
Look below for a larger image of Psyche entering Cupid's Garden, allowing you to see more of the detail added by the artist. The abudance of white flower heads dotted around the scene is particularly delightful, as are the touches of architectural detail too. The composition is carefully planned to build suspense in the viewer's mind as the young lady enters the garden.