Psyche returns to Brum – after 120 years!

One of the paintings on show in our new exhibition Love and Death: Victorian Paintings from Tate is Frederic Leighton’s The Bath of Psyche, first exhibited in 1890.

This isn’t Psyche’s first visit to Birmingham: a photograph taken at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists’ former gallery on New Street shows her taking pride of place in the RBSA’s autumn exhibition of 1891.


Photo: Birmingham Library and Archive Services

The picture is a great record of changing fashions in gallery displays – all those potted palms and drapes, with the paintings closely hung frame to frame.  Psyche’s (slightly incongruous?) neighbour in the exhibition is Millais’s painting of Mary Chamberlain demurely taking tea.  The portrait is now in the collection of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery: you can see it in the Round Room.

When The Bath of Psyche was exhibited in Birmingham Leighton had just finished a second term as President of the RBSA.  The Society kept close links with the Royal Academy in London, and Leighton was just one of many illustrious RA members who were invited to serve as President.  The three best places in the gallery – and the special drapes – are given to the pictures by former Presidents Leighton and Millais and to William Quiller-Orchardson, RBSA President in 1891, whose self-portrait hangs to the left of The Bath of Psyche.

You can see Leighton’s painting – and works by fellow RBSA presidents Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Edward Poynter, Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederic Watts – in Love and Death until 13 January.

Victoria Osborne

Curator (Fine Art)

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