Reynolds_Cupid___Psyche_HR

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Cupid and Psyche after conservation. Oil on canvas, 140 x 168 cm. Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Samuel Courtauld Trust for display at The Courtauld Gallery, 2004

The Courtauld Gallery is proud to unveil Sir Joshua Reynolds’s late masterpiece Cupid and Psyche after major conservation. It forms the centrepiece of the Gallery’s new temporary display 'The Courtauld Collects! 20 Years of Acquisitions' on view from 17 June to 19 September 2010 and supported by The Finnis Scott Foundation.

The painting entered The Courtauld Gallery under HM Government’s Acceptance in Lieu Scheme in 2004. It had been in the same private collection since 1923 and its condition had deteriorated. Ernst Vegelin, the Head of The Courtauld Gallery, remarked: ‘The painting hadn’t been seen in public for over 80 years. The canvas had buckled and had started to detach from its stretcher, and the composition was obscured behind many layers of heavily discoloured yellow varnish.’ The cleaning of works by Reynolds is notoriously difficult, given his use of experimental media and techniques, but painstaking conservation lasting three years has now revealed the full subtlety of Reynolds’s achievement.

The story of Cupid and Psyche tells how the god Cupid is enraptured by the beautiful mortal Psyche and makes love to her in his palace at night so as to hide his true identity. The following evening Psyche secretly creeps into her lover’s bedchamber where she finds him asleep. However, Cupid is awoken by a drop of oil which spills from her lamp. Enraged he flies away and it is only after a series of arduous trials that the lovers are reunited.

Cupid and Psyche was one of three large history paintings which Reynolds exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1789. At that time the Academy occupied the premises at Somerset House which, since 1990, have been home to The Courtauld Gallery. Reynolds was the Academy’s founding president and in 1789 he was a senior artist at the height of his fame. Cupid and Psyche met with great acclaim and the free and confident manner of its execution and graceful composition were much admired by contemporary reviewers.

The painting makes rich references to the art of the past, including the 16th century Italian artist Correggio. However, it also reveals Reynolds’s deep interest in nocturnal effects. He owned Rubens’s celebrated Landscape by Moonlight, now also at The Courtauld, and used it as an example of night lighting in one of his celebrated Academy discourses. Reynolds was an advocate of painting by candlelight as a ‘practice very advantageous and improving to the artist’.

Cupid and Psyche caught the attention of the Prince of Wales who commissioned the miniaturist Henry Bone to make a miniature copy. The original remained unsold in Reynolds’s lifetime but it was the highest priced lot in the artist’s studio sale selling for 230 guineas to the collector Samuel Rogers in 1802.

The Acceptance in Lieu Scheme
Cupid and Pysche was accepted in settlement of £420,000 of tax. HM Government’s Acceptance in Lieu Scheme celebrates its centenary this year. The Scheme allows pre-eminent works of art to enter public collections in settlement of Inheritance Tax. It is now the single most important means by which museums and galleries in the United Kingdom are able to add to their collections.

Reynolds_before_conservation_HR

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Cupid and Psyche before conservation. Oil on canvas, 140 x 168 cm. Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Samuel Courtauld Trust for display at The Courtauld Gallery, 2004

Reynolds_Cupid___Psyche_HR

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Cupid and Psyche after conservation. Oil on canvas, 140 x 168 cm. Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Samuel Courtauld Trust for display at The Courtauld Gallery, 2004