Psyche by the Waters of the Styx

WAG 4038


One of a group of 18 known as the ‘Liverpool Cartoons’, this drawing continues Romney's interest in the story of Psyche. Psyche had been returning from the Underworld having carried out four tasks given to her by Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, when her curiosity made her open the box she was carrying from Proserpine to Venus. Rather than beauty lotion as she thought, the box contained the sleep of Hades which instantly made her fall prostrate on the spot. This eposode follows on directly from the previous one, WAG 4037, suggesting the two cartoons were to be viewed as a pair. There is great contrast in the mood of the two cartoons however, the peaceful lakeland landscape belonging to the naturalistic world, while here we have entered an imaginary scene of almost nightmarish quality. There is a related drawing in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. ‘Cartoon’ here refers to the word in its old sense of a preparatory, full-size drawing for a later, finished painting. They are constructed of several pieces of handmade paper pieced together to create a large surface on which to work. The 18 cartoons in the Walker’s collection are the only ones surviving of groups of drawings Romney made exploring scenes from literature and mythology. It is likely that Romney explored the cartoon form over a period of ten years, if not longer, from about 1775. Romney’s son John (1757-1832) wrote to William Roscoe (1753-1831) that the cartoons ‘were executed in the winter evenings by candlelight as a relaxation when Mr. Romney’s mind had been jaded by portrait painting during the day’.