The composition features a young female figure sitting quietly on her own within the woods. She slowly opens a golden box, and in doing so creates a feeling of suspense within this painting. The title of the piece reveals this figure to represent Psyche, someone who re-appears in several other Waterhouse paintings. She is dressed in a simple but feminine style, with her hair tied back into a bun. She sits on a stone feature which leads down to a small pond in all likelihood. There is a series of trees behind her which keep out most of the natural light and give an impression of this being a particularly secluded spot. Only the trunks are visible, not the leaves and branches above, but this allows the artist to create the forest whilst still leaving our main focus on the young woman in front of us here. The model herself is likely to have re-appeared in a number of other drawings and paintings as the artist would re-use his favorites many times over. She has the signature look which he tended to prefer - slim frame with brown or red hair and very pale skin. The women would tend to be in their late teens or early twenties and suit his theme of innocence and charm.
The story behind the content in this painting tells of how Psyche was given several requests by Venus in order to prove herself worthy of Venus's son, Cupid. Opening this golden box would be her fourth task though doing so would ultimately be a trap. Waterhouse liked to use mythological stories as inspiration for his work though also made use of more recent British poetry in other cases. He tended to feature women by themselves, often looking off into the distance but in this case there is a clearer activity on show. The painting itself is just over one metre in height, which is fairly modest in size but Waterhouse liked to use different sizes of canvas in order to attract a wider variety of buyers for his work. They also would then suit different styles of galleries as well. Psyche would fall asleep as a result of opening this box and would require Cupid's arrows to awake her once more.
Waterhouse was a much loved artist who came from an academic background in which he was taught the key techniques of a variety of different artistic disciplines. He would eventually forge his own path though some would criticise the lack of variety within his work, as he constantly favoured the depiction of attractive young women within scenes of mythology and poet content. Another who came from a similar background was Frederic Leighton, though he tried several different genres successfully at different points in his career. Some of his more famous paintings included the likes of Flaming June, Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna and Perseus and Andromeda and he has also retained a strong following today, despite all the contemporary artists who have appeared since his own career took hold. British art more generally has also gone through a strong period over the past two centuries, impressing across a variety of different artistic styles.