William-Adolphe Bouguereau's most recognisable painting, L'Amour et Psyche, enfants (1890) is an elegant and idealised study of the mythological figures Cupid and Psyche as children. The artist, a traditionalist much-lauded by the French Academy of the time, and derided by the more radical school of Impressionism, favoured painting genre paintings that toyed with mythological themes. His interpretative reproductions of Christian and Pagan subjects was immensely appealing to the art collecting classes of his day, and Bouguereau enjoyed immense success during his lifetime. L'Amour et Psyche, enfants takes as its subject a story from a Latin novel known as 'The Golden Ass' written by Apuleius in the 2nd century. One of the artist's favourite myths, the story of Cupid and Psyche follows the princess Psyche, an object of jealously for the Goddess Venus on account of her radiant looks. In anger, Venus orders her son Cupid to make Psyche fall desperately in love with a monster. Instead, Cupid falls for Psyche. After a number of tests, obstacles and trials, the gods immortalise Psyche and the pair are married in heaven.
Apuleius's novel was rediscovered during the Renaissance and became engrained in the classical canon. The traditions that Bouguereau so closely followed were replete with references to Cupid and Psyche, told through poetry, opera, drama, and depicted in painting and sculpture. Choosing to paint a figurative reproduction the pair as cherubic children meeting before the onset of puberty or sexual passion, Bouguereau casts the pair as instruments of fate – born for each-other. Their union is one beyond the reality of lived experience or human reason - a relationship of the eternal soul, inspired neither by pagan ritual or Christian dogma. L'Amour et Psyche, enfants is thus a perfect expression of the primary themes, the staggering skill, and the lofty aspirations of Bouguereau's craft.
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