One can immediately see the similarity between this sketch and the final painting, with the artist focusing on the female figure and the angle of her posture as she looks down at the box. He leaves out any other detail for this drawing, just concentrating on this key part of the composition. He understood that portraiture was a complex genre and that any errors would be difficult to solve once he had started on the oil painting itself. It was therefore better to spend much more time elsewhere with sketches prior to commencing the final piece. This has been the case for artists for many centuries, with examples of this being found as far back as the Italian Renaissance, with the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. The final painting features plenty of additional content, but most of it is in darker tones and serves only to support the main figure. Waterhouse loved to create a certain atmosphere by directing the figures away from us, leaving us to feel separated and curious about what they are thinking about. In this case the golden box answers those questions but in many other drawings there would be a vague gaze off into the distance which would leave us intrigued.
This drawing was originally purchased in 1926 from a major auction in which large amounts of the artist's estate were sold off by his wife. Many of these individual items have never been seen since, sadly, and there were so many drawings on sale that it was decided best to put many of them together in batches for the sake of time. The artist liked to work from sketchbooks but many of these would be separated up, with individual artworks then sold off or gifted to friends, sometimes by the artist himself. Study for Psyche opening the Golden box would return to auction as recently as March 2021 and it received a winning bid of £8,000. This is in line with this artist's drawings that tend to be valuable, but no quite as much as some of the more official members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. That said, his paintings still achieve valuations in the millions of pounds and most are now in secure collections with little chance of coming up for sale again anytime soon.
The story of Psyche comes from Greek mythology and she would appear in several artworks by Waterhouse. You will also be aware of the exceptional Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In other examples from his career, Waterhouse would call on British poetry as an alternative source of inspiration, including the great Lord Alfred Tennyson who directly inspired the likes of The Lady of Shalott from 1888. These two content types may have come from very different periods of history, but actually had plenty in common and were both ideally suited to this artist's appreciation of the female figure as well as his enjoyment of magic and mysticism which pervays both sets of literature. Many art fans have actually been introduced to these written publications by first appreciating the art that they inspired.