World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 86 - Goya

Francisco José De Goya y Lucientes, Goya as we know him, was, like Velázquez a century earlier, a portrait painter of the Spanish Royal family. He also made etchings on the horrors of war, the Napoleontic invasion from 1808. Goya belongs stylistically to Romanticism, but he was also influenced by the Enlightenment.

Goya was born in a small village, Fuendetodos, near Zargoza in Aragón on March 30, 1746. His father was a painter who made altarpieces. His mother came from a prominent Spanish family. At thirteen he apprenticed to the painter José Luzan, a friend of his father. Four years later he moved to Madrid, where he hoped to win a prize at the Academy of Arts.

The Spanish Inquisition

He didn’t get the prize, but he does get acquainted with Francisco Bayeu, a court painter, who becomes his mentor. He marries his sister, Josefa Bayeu. A few years later Goya is appointed as first painter to the Spanish Court. He portrayed the Spanish Royal family in numerous paintings. In the first place Charles IV of Spain, and then Ferdinand VII of Spain.

The Spanish Inquisition was powerful. They also interfered with his work. As for the Royal Family and Spanish clergy works there was no problem, but there was for his freer work, the etchings. He had those printed in large quantities. They were then traded in many cities, including outside Spain.

La Maja

Besides etchings he also made paintings of historical events and designed cheerful scenes in rococo style for tapestries. Two of Goya’s most famous paintings are La Maja Desnuda (Nude Maja) and La Maja Vestida (Clothed Maja). Maja was the name for a pretty girl from the people. The two paintings depict the same woman in the same pose, once dressed, once naked.

The fact that the woman was looking right in the eyes of the spectator, was particularly shocking, more shocking than that she wasn’t a Greek goddess. The Inquisition was alarmed and Goya was subjected to rigorous questioning. He received strong warnings. Nevertheless Goya refused to be intimidated. He was not afraid.

Los Desastres de La Guerra

In the etchings series Los Caprichos he shows his disgust with the corruption within the Church. In 1792 he becomes seriously ill and keeps a permanent deafness from it. This is a turning point in his life. From that moment he makes a lot of dark and pessimistic tinted paintings. After the occupation of Spain by Napoleon’s army, he retreats into his Quinta del Sordo (Villa of the Deaf).  

The bloody Napoleontic invasion from 1808 is reflected in his works, particularly in the series of etchings Los Desastres de la Guerra, the horrors of the war, which he made in the years 1810-1814. They show the horrors that were committed by both sides.

Undermining traditions

After the departure of the French, the Spanish Royal repressive regime came back. None of the achievements of the French Revolution took effect in Spain, as it did in the Netherlands. Goya went into voluntary exile in France. He died in 1828 in Bordeaux. In 1901 his remains were transferred to Spain, where it was buried in the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid.

Goya’s work, especially his later work, has strongly influenced the arts. It undermined traditions and anticipated expressionism and surrealism. The Black paintings that he made at the end of his life, made a great impression on later artists. They borrowed a lot from it. Manet for example took over the principle of sharp foreground and fainter background.

Image 1: Goya painted by Vicente López y Portaña




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