The Charles Hosmer - Morse Museum of American Art

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Psyche and Cupid, late 19th century
Oil on panel
Attributed to Elihu Vedder, American, 1836–1923
10 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.

The course of love has never run smoothly—not even for the god of desire. This painting—attributed to American Symbolist painter Elihu Vedder (1836–1923)—captures one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the mythic romance of Cupid and Psyche. Cupid, the son of Venus, marries the beautiful Psyche against the wishes of his mother. But, as the saga was told by the Roman writer Apuleius in the second-century novel Metamorphoses, Cupid visits Psyche only by night. She never sees her lover. Vedder’s painting interprets the climactic moment just after Psyche, pressured to discover her husband’s identity by lighting an oil lamp in the dark, accidentally spills hot oil on poor Cupid and sends the awakened and betrayed god racing away. The distraught Psyche hides her face in Cupid’s wing, her arm outstretched toward his barely visible fleeing figure. Vedder, who had a lifelong fascination with mythology and stories of the fantastic, designed windows for Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) from about 1878 to 1897. Fortunately, the love story of Psyche and Cupid does not end with the chapter that most interested Vedder. Psyche pursues her husband and is not only eventually reunited with Cupid but is transformed from mortal to goddess—proving of course that true love endures through suffering and challenge.

Psyche and Cupid