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Work Psyche Welcomed to the Underworld by Pluto and Proserpine

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Psyché reçue aux Enfers par Pluton et Proserpine

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo T. Le Mage

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Chabod Christine, Méjanès Jean-François

This preparatory study dates from Natoire's Parisian period. The drawing, in black chalk with white highlights on blue paper, demonstrates a sensitivity and virtuoso handling inspired by Natoire's teacher, François Lemoine. While the graphic qualities are looser, the suppleness and elegance of the lines match the decorative way the drawing fills the surface of the paper. The realism of the individualized figures makes this composition, with its careful use of light effects, a charming piece.

Psyche's torments

Psyche, sent to the Underworld by Venus, is standing before Pluto and Proserpine, who are seated on their thrones. She is enveloped in a draped garment. Proserpine is handing her the vessel containing the essence of beauty that Venus sent her to fetch. On the left are two seated male figures, while on the right a snake is shown escaping from a basket. Natoire's work illustrates an episode invented by Jean de La Fontaine for his poem on Psyche and Cupid's love. After Cupid leaves her, Psyche wanders aimlessly, facing the wrath of Venus who is jealous of her beauty. However, despite this rivalry, Venus takes Psyche into her palace, tormenting her endlessly and challenging her to a series of tests. One of these tests is to visit the Underworld and bring back a bottle of the essence of Eternal Youth from Proserpine. Venus forbade Psyche to open the bottle, but on her way back from the Underworld, Psyche disobeyed. Having opened the bottle, she fell into a deep sleep.

A recurring theme in Natoire's oeuvre

According to some experts, this drawing was a preparatory work for eight paintings recounting Psyche's story, done between 1737 and 1739 for the Hôtel de Soubise, planned but not painted as a series. However, it has been demonstrated that it is in fact a preparatory work for one of the four paintings commissioned in about 1735 by the farmer-general La Live de Bellegarde (1680-1751) for the drawing room of his chateau, La Chevrette, in Saint-Denis. Three of the paintings have recently been identified. The painting based on this study was recently acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Psyche at her Toilet is in the New Orleans Museum of Art, while Venus showing Psyche to Cupid is in a private collection in the United States. In the Hôtel de Soubise, Charles-Joseph Natoire took up the theme of Psyche in some magnificent wood paneling decorated with eight painted quoins.


Duclaux Lise, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins. Inventaire général des dessins, école française, t. XII, 1975, notice 37.
Bacou Roseline, Le XVIIIe siècle français, Flammarion, 1976, notice p. 83.
Méjanès Jean-François, Les Collections du comte d'Orsay : dessins du musée du Louvre : LXXVIIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Musée du Louvre, février - mai 1983, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983, notice 106.
Boyer Ferdinand, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre de Charles Natoire, peintre du roi, 1700-1777, Armand colin, 1949.
Charles-Joseph Natoire : Peintures, dessins, estampes et tapisseries des collections publiques françaises, catalogue d'exposition Troyes, musée des Beaux-Arts, Nîmes, musée des Beaux-Arts, Rome, Villa Médicis, mars - juin 1977.
Dessins français du XVIIIe siècle de Watteau à Lemoyne : LXXXIXe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, catalogue d'exposition, musée du Louvre, février - juin 1987
Duclaux Lise, Charles Natoire 1700-1777, Galerie de Bayser, 1991.

Technical description

  • Charles-Joseph Natoire (Nîmes, 1700-Castel Gandolfo, 1777)

    Psyche Welcomed to the Underworld by Pluto and Proserpine


  • Black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, and white highlights on blue paper

    H. 32.8 cm; L. 21.3 cm

  • Marquis de Calvière collection, sold in Paris, 1779, part of lot 482; purchased by the Comte d'Orsay; confiscated from émigrés, 1793

    INV 31416

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Signed in pen and brown ink, bottom right: c. natoire