Harry Bates, A.R.A., The Story of Psyche. Silvered bronze relief: Side panels: 13 x 9 ⅓ inches. Central panel (color photograph): 13 x 29 ½inches. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. The subject of the work is the abduction of Psyche from her desolate mountaintop” by the god of the west wind, Zephyrus, whilst she is lulled into a deep sleep" (7).

While Psyche wept upon the rock forsaken
Alone, despairing, dreading, - gradually
By Zephyrus she was enwrapt and taken
Still trembling, - like lilies planted high,-
Through all her fair white limbs. Her vesture spread,
Her very bosom eddying with surprise,-
He drew her slowly from the mountain-head . . .
Yet Love was not far off from all that Rest. — Elizabeth Barrett Browning “Psyche Wafted by Zepharus”

Bates, who was a prominent member in the New Sculpture movement, was probably the most devout classicist of the group. His work was influenced, not only by ancient Greek and Renaissance sculpture but also by current French romanto-realist sculpture and the Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic, Arts and Crafts, and Symbolist Movements. As Robert Bowman points out, this triptych "exemplifies the eclecticism of sculptural practice of the 1880s and [Bates's] shared influences with the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic artists such as Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Moore, and Solomon. Bates was at his most skillful in the composition and sculpting of relief sculpture. It is in this particular medium that he produced his most technically advanced and aesthetically refined work and he executed some of the most complex examples of the late nineteenth century.

Bates’s triptych of The Story of Psyche in three silvered bronze bas-reliefs was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887 [nos. 1854-56]. He based this sculptural relief, which seems to have been influenced by the works of the painters Edward Burne-Jones and G. F. Watts, on one of the last poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Psyche Wafted by Zepharus.” As John Christian has pointed out, "to this generation they were both grand old men of British symbolism, whose work not only exemplified the fusion of realism and idealism which the New Sculpture sought to achieve but provided a fertile mine of imagery” (85-86).

Left: Psyche Being Bourne Away. Silvered bronze relief: Side panels: 13 x 9 1/3 inches. (color photograph): 13 x 29 ½ inches. Walker Art Gallery. Right: plaster relief in gilded oak frame, 13¾ x 29¾ inches (35 x 75.6 cm). Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The central panel of Bates’ sculptural relief shows Psyche, who has been lulled into a stupor, being abducted from her desolate mountaintop by Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. The left-hand panel depicts Psyche forsaken and alone, sitting on a rock, and trying to tie a fillet around her head. In the right-hand panel Cupid appeaers kneeling, eager and expectant, and waiting for Psyche.

South West Corner, Cupid and Psyche Frieze by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Burne-Jones, who had long been interested in the story of Cupid and Psyche, in the 1860s had designed a series of illustrations on this theme for William Morris's The Earthly Paradise, including a design for Zephyrus and Psyche dating from 1864. In 1872 Burne-Jones began a series of Cupid and Psyche decorations for George Howard’s dining room at his London home No. 1 Palace Green. Robert Upstone has also pointed out Bates’s indebtedness to both Burne-Jones and Watts in this sculptural relief (91). Although Psyche in the central panel of Bates's The Story of Psyche is nude, the pose of the figure is virtually identical with that of Psyche in Burne-Jones' Cupid finding Psyche of 1865-87, in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery. The figure of Cupid in the right-hand panel was also obviously influenced by Burne-Jones' painting of Cupid finding Psyche, although Bates' Cupid is crouching rather than bending.

Hope by G. F. Watts.

The figure of Psyche in the left-hand panel appears to be derived from Watts's painting Hope, which he exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886, the year prior to Bates’s sculptural triptych being shown at the Royal Academy. The figure of Zephyrus in the central relief owes much to the figure of Death in Watts' painting Love and Death. It is possible that the model for Psyche in Bates’s relief was Louise “Louie” Luker (1873-1971), who later became a professional artist herself.

The Story of Psyche received favourable reviews when the triptych was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887. The critic for The Magazine of Art, for instance, commented: “Among designs in low relief, Mr. Harry Bates is without competitor, for there is nothing that approaches within measurable distance the imagination and fine feeling for the antique that mark Mr. Bates’s three beautiful panels illustrating the story of Psyche” (383).

The Story of Psyche. Plaster relief in gilded oak frame. c. 1887, 13 ¾ x 49 ⅝ inches (35 x 126 cm). Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, accession no. S.213.

Casts of this relief were available in in at least two sizes and in different mediums, including plaster, marble, bronze, and silvered bronze. The large silvered bronze version exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887 is at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Large plaster versions of this triptych in a wooden frame are in the collections of the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre and the Musée d' Orsay in Paris. A plaster relief of Psyche in a gilt wood frame is in the collection of the Mougins Musée d’Art Classique, Mougins, France. Photographic replicas were also made as platinotypes by Frederick Hollyer, one of which appears in this section of the Victorian Web.

The Story of Psyche. Brown-tinted plaster relief triptych in oak frame. Central panel 6 ¾ x 14 ½ inches (17.2 x 37 cm), framed 7 ⅝ x 15 inches (19.4 x 38.1 cm); left and right side panels 6 ⅝ x 4 ⅞ inches (19.4 x 12.4 cm), framed 7 ⅝ x 5¾ inches (19.4 x 14.6 cm). Private Collection.

Related Material

Robert Bowman. the Fine Art Society, London, the Walker Art Gallery, and the Glasgow Museums have most generously given their permission to use information, images, and text from Sir Alfred Gilbert and the New Sculpture in the Victorian Web. Copyright on text and images from their catalogues remains, of course, with them. [GPL]


Beattie, Susan. The New Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. pl 147.

Bowman, Robert. Sir Alfred Gilbert and the New Sculpture. London: The Fine Art Society, 2008. Pp. 6-7.

Created 7 June 2008

Last modified 1 June 2021