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  • Edvard Munch
    Dec 12, 1863 - Jan 23, 1944
  • Cupid and Psyche - Edvard Munch was a Norwegian Symbolist painter, printmaker and an important forerunner of expressionistic art. His best-known composition, The Scream, is part of a series The Frieze of Life, in which Munch explored the themes of life, love, fear, death, and melancholia. His work often included the symbolic portrayal of such themes as misery, sickness, and death.
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Cupid and Psyche
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  • Cupid and Psyche

  • Edvard Munch
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  • 1907
    Oil on canvas
    119.5 cm (47.05 in.) x 99 cm (38.98 in.)
    Munch-museet, Oslo, Norway.

    Cupid and Psyche by Edvard Munch hangs at the Munch Museum in Oslo. It was loaned to the D’Orsay as part of an exhibition called Crime and Punishment, which was organized around the death penalty and the crimes which call for the death penalty. The painting shows two figures, a man and a woman, both naked. There is a spiral staircase to the left, barely visible, and including almost the only horizontal strokes in the painting. The painting seems to be made of vertical strips of paint, and the details of face and figure are sketchy.

    The story of Cupid and Psyche is one of the powerful jealousy and hatred of the Greek Gods, and the efforts of mortals to cope with that jealousy. Here is a version from the Roman Lucius Apuleius, translated by Bullfinch. The story is the basis for several fairy tales, including Beauty and the Beast. The key is that Psyche marries the God, but he only comes to her at night, and she is not allowed to see him. Egged on by her jealous sisters, she violates this rule, and looks at him by lamplight. A drop of oil falls from the lamp and wakes Cupid. He leaves, and the rest of the story is the trials she undergoes to restore their relationship.

    At the end, Venus sends Psyche to the Underworld to get a box of beauty from Persephone, the Goddess there. She does everything right, but as she is ascending, she opens the box to take a bit of the beauty for herself. It turns out to be a deep sleep instead of beauty. Cupid rescues her. . . .

    I think this painting shows her at that point, standing before Cupid with her injuries, both to her body and her spirit. The painting, despite it’s spare construction, shows the concern of Cupid for her injuries through his posture, and her regret through her body language. Even though he is a God, he cannot make this better. They have to live with these injuries.

    The relevance to the main theme of the exhibition isn’t obvious. Perhaps a place to start is to think about the sins of the Greek Gods. Their crimes against mortals arise from their passions, which are similar to those of mere humans but magnified a hundred-fold. Crimes of passion, including the violence directed at Psyche by Venus, are inexplicable, and their impact on the innocent can be overwhelming.

    The wounds here are to the spirit as well as the body. The blood around Psyche’s eyes evidences the cost of love. In the story, Cupid also suffers the wounds of love, and takes to his sick bed when Psyche disobeys his instructions. In one version, he no longer flies about sending his arrows to move creation to love, so that plants, animals and people languish, and the world loses its life force and starts to die. We can see that injury as an alternative interpretation of Cupid’s posture. Both are injured in the search for love, and both survive to live out that love.

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Other paintings by Edvard Munch:

Galloping Horse
Galloping Horse
Eventyrskogen,omkring (The Fairytale Forest)
Eventyrskogen,omkring (The Fairytale Forest)
Couple on the Shore (from the Reinhardt Frieze)
Couple on the Shore (from the Reinhardt Frieze)
The Girls on the Bridge (At the Bridge)
The Girls on the Bridge (At the Bridge)
Edvard Munch1863-1944. The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch is regarded as a pioneer in the Expressionist movement in modern painting. At an early stage Munch was recognized in Germany and central Europe as one of the creators of a new epoch. His star is still on the ascendant in the other European countries, and in the rest of the world. Munch's art from the 1890s is the most well known, but his later work is steadily attracting greater attention, and it appears to inspire present-day artists in particular. Often called the father of Expressionism, the Norwegian painter suffered as a child with illness, loss, and psychological terror, emotions that characterize many early images. He chose painting as his life's work at a young age and traveled throughout Europe, especially to Paris, where he absorbed the influences of Impressionism, then Post-Impressionism, and Art Nouveau design. While in Berlin, he joined a circle of writers and artists that included playwrights Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, who became friends and collaborators. Just as his Scandinavian colleagues, Munch unflinchingly brought the darker side of the human experience to his art.