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The Abduction of Psyche

also known as L'enlèvement de Psyché

Artist: Adolphe William Bouguereau
Created: 1895
Dimensions (cm): 120.0 x 209.0
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Private collection

The Abduction of Psyche

“Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the morning to come... if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable.” – Adolphe William Bouguereau

In 1895, Adolphe William Bouguereau painted ‘The Abduction of Psyche’ (known in its original language as ‘L'enlèvement de Psyché’), a magnificent oil on canvas that reflects the mythological love story of Cupid and the mortal woman, Psyche. The painting is set against a dazzling background, a sky rampant with purples and whites, suggesting daybreak and new life.

In order to better appreciate ‘The Abduction of Psyche’, the tale of Cupid and Psyche needs to be told. Venus, the Goddess of Love, in a jealous rage over the beauty of Psyche, asks her son Cupid to use one of his arrows to make Psyche fall in love with the most grotesque creature on earth. Cupid consents to his mother’s request, but as he leans over to view Psyche, one of his arrows accidentally falls forward and pierces him, causing him to fall in love with her. The painting shows Cupid holding onto Psyche in a loving embrace as he carries her to the Other world to become his wife. Psyche’s newly emerged butterfly wings are symbolic, signifying that she has now become immortal. Her facial expression is one of contented bliss, and her pliant body appears soft and vulnerable. Cupid’s arms closely envelop Psyche, relaying a message of possession, while Psyche’s pose implies complete surrender.


In an article written in 2001 by Language of Art student Sharrell E. Gibson, some interesting observations are made with regards to ‘The Abduction of Psyche’: “Finally, the ever-present white light in the background lends an aura of resurrection and new life. It was also interesting that Cupid is portrayed here without his bow and arrow, his trademark. Perhaps, he no longer needs his bow and arrow, because he has finally kindled the love of his life - Psyche.”

Adolphe William Bouguereau’s masterpiece ‘The Abduction of Psyche’ is currently part of a private collection.


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