Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) is regarded as the most important Spanish artist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Over the course of his long career, Goya moved from jolly and lighthearted to deeply pessimistic and searching in his paintings, drawings, etchings, and frescoes. Born in Fuendetodos, he later moved with his parents to Saragossa and, at age fourteen, began studying with the painter José Luzán Martínez (1710–1785). In 1746, the year of Goya’s birth, the Spanish crown was under the rule of Ferdinand VI. Subsequently, the Bourbon king Charles III (r. 1759–88) ruled the country as an enlightened monarch sympathetic to change, employing ministers who supported radical economic, industrial, and agricultural reform. Goya came to artistic maturity during this age of enlightenment. In Madrid, the painter brothers Francisco (1734–1795) and Ramón Bayeu y Subías (1746–1793) had set up shop in 1763 and Goya soon joined their studio, eventually marrying their sister Josefa. He visited Italy in 1770, after two failed attempts in drawing competitions at the Real Academia des Bellas Artes in San Fernando.
Goya’s introduction to the royal workshops, a relationship that lasted the rest of his life and spanned four ruling monarchies, began in 1774. The German painter Anton Raphael Mengs asked Goya to work on tapestry cartoons, or preliminary paintings, for the Royal Tapestry Factory at Santa Bárbara. Goya painted sixty-three cartoons for two royal palaces, which included nine hunting scenes for the dining room at San Lorenzo del Escorial, and ten cartoons for tapestries destined for the dining room at El Pardo. The tapestries glorify leisure activities of the rich, poor, young, and old in a playful Rococo manner comparable to the style of Tiepolo. The Blind Guitarist (22.63.29) was originally designed for the antechamber at El Pardo and comes from this genre. The tapestry weavers, frustrated by its complex composition, returned the cartoon to Goya. However, before simplifying it, Goya preserved the original design in a copperplate etching, the largest print he ever made. Las Meninas (promised gift) is one of a group of etchings completed by Goya based on paintings by Velázquez. Goya made these etchings upon Mengs’s suggestion that he study Velázquez portraits in the royal collection.
As Goya continued to move in circles of royal patronage, he received more commissions from the aristocracy. Between 1785 and 1788, he painted executives and their families from the Bank of San Carlos, including the count of Altamira. The Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter (1975.1.148) shows his skill at capturing the sensitivity of the sitters and his mastery of a painterly technique, which portrays in broad brushstrokes the brilliance of fine clothing and other accoutrements of wealth. Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga (49.7.41), a portrait of the Altamiras’ third son, shows Goya’s interest in surface pattern and the play of light; the caged birds symbolize the innocence of youth. In a later child’s portrait of astonishing emotional evocation (61.259), the symbolism alludes to Spain’s military struggle with France.
At the age of forty, Goya was appointed painter to King Charles III, and, in 1789, he was promoted to court painter under the newly accessioned Charles IV (r. 1788–1808). The year 1789 also marked the fall of French monarchy (with Charles IV unwilling to assist his cousin Louis XVI), and in 1793 France declared war on Spain. Around this time, Goya traveled to Cádiz in Andalusia with Sebastián Martínez y Pérez, a wealthy businessman and art collector. Goya’s remarkable portrait of his friend (06.289) captures the subject’s likeness and intensity by emphasizing his personal expression, inner character, and humanity. His social standing is conveyed in his demeanor and the quality of his clothing, and his role as an astute collector of books, prints, and paintings is suggested by the sheet of paper in his hand.
Having survived an extended period of illness in Cádiz, Goya emerged months later completely deaf, but able to return to Madrid in 1793. In 1799, he completed and published a suite of eighty allegorical etchings called the Caprichos; Out Hunting for Teeth (18.64.12) and The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (18.64.43) are two etchings from this series. They introduce a world of witches, ghosts, and fantastic creatures that invade the mind, particularly during dreams, nightmarish visions symbolizing a world against reason. That same year, Goya was promoted by the crown to first court painter and spent the next two years working on a large-scale portrait of the family of Charles IV (Museo del Prado, Madrid, P00726). Harking back to the compositions of Velázquez, Goya placed the royal family in the foreground and, in the background, himself at an easel. The painting is simultaneously a depiction of a united, strong, and regal monarchy, and a shockingly naturalistic—in some cases even grotesque—group portrait.
Goya, Napoleon, and Nineteenth-Century Spain
The enlightened monarchy of Charles IV came to an end when Napoleon’s armies invaded Spain in 1808. The brutal incursion—which included mass executions of Spanish citizens who rose up in opposition to Napoleon’s invasion—culminated in French occupation and the installation of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish throne. Although repulsed by French atrocities, Goya pledged allegiance to Bonaparte, and painted members of the French regime. In 1811, he was awarded the Royal Order of Spain.
The Bourbon monarchy was restored with Napoleon’s fall in 1814. But the new king, Ferdinand VII, son of Charles IV, did not share the enlightened views of his predecessor. He revoked the Constitution, reinstated the Inquisition, and declared himself absolute monarch. Not long afterward, he launched a reign of terror. Questioned about his loyalty to the occupiers, Goya demonstrated his allegiance by commemorating Spain’s uprising against the French regime in two paintings: The Second of May 1808 (Museo del Prado, Madrid, P00748) and The Third of May 1808 (Museo del Prado, Madrid, P00749). In the first, Goya depicts a brutal scene in Madrid’s city center, the Puerta del Sol, where Spaniards fought against French-led soldiers on horseback. The second work illustrates the execution of captured Spaniards on the Príncipe Pío, a hill just outside Madrid at that time. The paintings exemplify the dark tonalities and fluid brushstrokes representative of Goya’s later period, as well as the stylistic influences of Velázquez and Rembrandt.
Goya continued his account of the atrocities of war in a series of eighty-five prints called The Disasters of War. Executed from 1810 to 1820, the series depicts the travesties witnessed during Spain’s struggle for independence from France. Unlike the Caprichos, this series was never published during Goya’s lifetime, probably because of its pronounced indictment of war. One Can’t Look (184.108.40.206), an etching from the series, is a powerful and emotionally charged scene of French occupation and Spanish retaliation that recalls the painting The Third of May 1808. The innovative composition—critical elements are placed outside the picture plane and the immediate action is forced to the foreground—amplifies the overall impact. Although Goya’s graphic work is grounded in the dramatic Baroque tradition of contrasting lights and darks, recalling Tiepolo’s war scenes and Rembrandt’s etchings, The Disasters of War etchings employ the tradition within a unique compositional framework.
Having no royal commissions during the tumultuous monarchy of Ferdinand VII, Goya became isolated from political and intellectual life in Madrid. Between 1820 and 1823, he completed a series of very private works in fresco at his small country retreat, Quinta del Sordo (the Deaf Man’s House). Today referred to as the Black Paintings, they are compelling in their sinister and often horrifying scenes with dark, emotional undertones.
Dissatisfied with political developments in Spain, Goya retired to Bordeaux in 1824 under the guise of seeking medical advice. His final years were spent there and in Paris.
Voorhies, James. “Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) and the Spanish Enlightenment.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/goya/hd_goya.htm (October 2003)