Venus sends Psyche to fetch the Waters of the Styx

WAG 4037


One of a group of 18 known as the ‘Liverpool Cartoons’, this drawing shows Venus commanding Psyche to continue with the third of a series of tasks set by the goddess of love. This composition has a more painterly character than the other cartoons because of the open landscape behind the figures of Venus and Psyche. Related studies can be found in Romney's sketchbook of 1777-78 (WAG 10850). Romney became interested in the story of Cupid and Pysche shortly after his return from Italy in 1775 and produced a painting on the subject. According to his friend William Hayley in 1777, Romney made eight drawings of the story. Later commentators' suggestions for the subject of the 'missing' drawing are: 'Psyche deposited by Zeus' and 'Psyche being rowed accross the Styx.' ‘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’.