Francisco de Goya
Biography of Romantic Spanish History Painter, Printmaker.

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The Third of May 1808 (1814)
Detail of central area.
By Goya. Prado Museum, Madrid.

Goya (1746-1828)


Dark Romanticism
Last Years
Review of Goya's Art

NOTE: For analysis of works by Romantic artists like Goya,
see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Saturn Devouring His Son (1821)
By Goya. Prado, Madrid.

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The Spanish artist Francisco de Goya is considered one of the key figures in Spanish painting and an important precursor of modern art. His portrait art, figurative drawing and printmaking documented important historical events in Spain during the late 18th and early 19th century. He is best known for his bold emotive paintings of violence especially those recording the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. His most notable works include The Nude Maja (c.1797), The Clothed Maja (c.1800), The Third of May 1808 (1814) and Saturn Devouring his Son (1819), all housed at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Other works include: Scene of the Inquisition (1800, Academia de S.Fernando); Portrait of Charles IV and His Family (1800 Prado); The Colossus (Giant) (1810, Prado); Portrait of the Duke of Wellington (1814, National Gallery, London). His dark Romanticism is illustrated by his Fantasy & Invention series (paintings, 1793), his Caprices (etchings, 1799), his Disasters of War (aquatints, 1812-15), and Black Paintings (14 murals, 1819-23).

The Colossus (1808-12) (El Coloso)
By Goya. Prado, Madrid.

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Goya was born in 1746, in Zaragoza, a small village in Northern Spain. A few years late the family moved to Saragossa and his father gained employment as a gilder. At the age of about 14, Goya went to work as an apprentice to a local painter called Jose Luzan who taught him drawing and as was customary at the time, the young Goya spent hours copying prints of Old Masters. At the age of 17 Goya moved to Madrid and came under the influence of Venetian artist and printmaker Giambattista Tiepolo and painter Anton Raphael Mengs. In 1770, he moved to Rome where he won second prize in a fine art painting contest organized by the City of Parma.


His first major commission came in 1774 to design 42 patterns which were to be used decorate the stone walls of El Escorial and the Palacio Real de El Pardo, the new residents of the Spanish Monarchy. This work brought him to the attention of the Spanish Monarchy which eventually resulted in him being appointed Painter to the King in 1786.

Goya was a keen observer of humanity, and he was constantly making sketches of everyday life. However after contracting a fever in 1792 Goya was left permanently deaf by his illness. Isolated from people by his deafness, he retreated into his imagination and a new style started to evolve - more satirical, and close to caricature. There was growing macabre quality to his works which can be seen for example in his Fantasy and Invention series of thirteen paintings, 1793 - a dramatic nightmarish fantasy with lunatics in a courtyard. While he completed these series of paintings, Goya himself was convalescing from a nervous breakdown.



Dark Romanticism

In 1799, he brought out a series of 80 etchings entitled Los Caprichos (Caprices) commenting on a range of human behaviours in the manner of William Hogarth.

In 1812-15, following the Napoleonic War, he produced a series of aquatint prints called The Disasters of War depicting shocking, horrific scenes from the battlefield. The prints remained unpublished until 1863. Compare Goya's realist portrayal of the war with the more romantic depiction of Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835).

In 1814, to commemorate the Spanish insurrection against French troops at the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Goya produced one of his greatest masterpieces - The Third of May, 1808 (1814, Prado, Madrid), which is acknowledged as one of the first true paintings of modern art.

After 1815 Goya virtually retired from public life, and became increasingly withdrawn and more expressive in his works which echoed El Greco many years before him. Another set of pictures, his fourteen large murals known as the Black Paintings (1819-23), including Saturn Devouring One of His Children (1821, Prado, Madrid), reveal an extraordinary world of black fantasy and imagination.

Last Years

His works span a period of more than 60 years, and as time went on he became more critical of the world. He became bitter and disillusioned with society as the world around him changed, and he expressed these emotions through his art.

In 1824, after much political upheaval in Spain, Goya decided to go into exile in France. He continued to work there until his death in 1828, at the age of 82. Towards the end of his life he became more reclusive, slipping deeper into madness and fantasy.

Goya's role in the history of art is not limited simply to his supreme portraiture. In addition to his mastery of printing, his dramatic painting style influenced a great deal of nineteenth century French art and his works became the precursor to the Expressionist movement and an important forerunner of modern art. Along with Velazquez and Picasso, he is considered to be one of the three finest artists of Spain.


Francisco Jose Goya: His Life and Art

Two Spanish Virtuosi: Goya Versus Velazquez

Prior to the Modernist era, Spain produced two supreme artists - Velasquez the Serene and Goya the Turbulent. Alike in their genius, they were unlike in everything else. Velasquez was a smiling spectator in the tragicomedy of life. Goya was a boisterous actor. Velasquez, the philosopher, shook his head indulgently and said, "What fools these mortals be." Goya, the fighter, brandished his fist threateningly and cried, "What rascals these mortals be!" And he himself was not the least of the rascals. Both Velasquez and Goya were Spanish to the core. But the spirit of Velasquez' painting was primarily national, while the spirit of Goya's painting was at all times universal. Velasquez was a citizen of Spain. Goya was a man of the world.

Velasquez depicted the life of his compatriots. Goya represented the life of mankind. Goya was one of the most comprehensive of the world's painters. He may well be called the Shakespeare of the brush. His imagination was all embracing. The scope of his genius included portraiture, landscape painting, mythological painting, realistic stories, symbolical representations, tragedy, comedy, satire, farce, men, gods, devils, witches, the seen and the unseen and as was the case with Shakespeare's extravagant genius - an occasional excursion into the obscene.

Physically, this roisterous knight of the dagger and the brush was impressive rather than handsome. Somewhat below the medium height, he had the figure of an athlete. His features were coarse and irregular, but they were alive with the fire of an unsuppressed impetuosity. His deep black eyes would suddenly light up with the impudence of a child about to play a naughty prank. His nose was thick, fleshy, sensuous. His lips were firm, aggressive and unabashed. Yet there lurked about their corners at times a smile of good-natured joviality. His chin was the round, sensitive, smooth chin of a lover. A lover of life, of gaiety, of beauty. He enjoyed three things with equal gusto - to flirt with a wench, to fight a duel and to paint a picture. He was a master in the art of indiscriminate living - an audacious, brawling, philandering, befriending, swashbuckling and dreaming Don Juan of Saragossa!

Early Years

Francisco Jose Goya Y Lucientes, the son of a peasant in the province of Aragon, was born on March 13, 1746 - a period when Spanish art was at a low ebb. The red-blooded Spanish Baroque realism of Velazquez and Ribera had degenerated into the anemic pink-and-white figurines of the uninspired artists of the eighteenth century. These artists had a genius for mediocrity. The world was old and tired. It was sleeping under the snows of one of the winter epochs of history. Nobody suspected, when Goya was roaming over the fields of his native village Fuendetodos, that here was a youngster who would usher in a new spring. Least of all was Goya himself aware of his destiny. To keep his busy hands out of mischief he amused himself by sketching in the fields that bordered upon the road to Saragossa.

One day, in 1760, a monk was walking slowly over this road and reciting his breviary. A shadow lay across his path. Looking up, he saw a young lad making charcoal drawings upon the wall of a barn. Being somewhat of a connoisseur, the monk stopped to examine the boy's work. He was amazed at the youngster's aptitude. "Take me home to your parents," he said. "I want to speak to them."

When he arrived at the Goya farmhouse he had no difficulty in persuading the parents to entrust their child to his care. It was this anonymous monk who was responsible for the awakening of the latent genius of Goya and for the renaissance of Spanish painting.

Goya was fifteen years old when he entered upon his apprenticeship as an artist. Thanks to the recommendation of his ecclesiastical benefactor, he was admitted into the studio of Don Jose Lujan Martinez. Here he remained for five years, acquiring an exuberant virtuosity in colour and design, a passionate admiration for Velasquez and a hearty contempt for the academic conventionalities of his fellow artists. There was only one of them for whom he had the slightest respect - a painter by the name of Francisco Bayeu (1734-95). In spite of the fact that Bayeu was twelve years older than Goya the two pupils of Lujan became fast friends.

Goya the Wild Young Man

"Fast" in more senses than one. Goya and Bayeu were the life of the studio - and the talk of the town. Ardent in their work, headstrong in their pleasures and reckless of the consequences of their pranks, they threw themselves heartily into the whirlpool of the Aragonese underworld - singing, dancing, drinking, wenching, quarreling, with an occasional killing thrown in for good measure. Goya was always in the forefront of the street battles. In one of these battles, occasioned by nobody knows what flimsy excuse, three young men belonging to the rival faction were left lifeless on the ground. Somebody warned Goya that the Inquisition intended to arrest him. Hastily packing his belongings, he left Saragossa in the dead of night and made his way to Madrid.

Arrives in Spanish Capital

Here his reputation as an artist had preceded him. Bayeu, who had arrived in Madrid shortly before him, introduced him to the German, Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79), the Superintendent of Fine Arts in Madrid. Mengs, a somewhat better than mediocre painter but somewhat worse than mediocre teacher, was at that time decorating the royal palace at Madrid. From all the pupils who assisted him in this work he exacted a slavish obedience and a faithful imitation of his own unimpressive ideas. He offered to take Goya into his studio as one of his assistants. Goya, whose artistic ideas were superior to those of Mengs, refused the offer.

Goya had come to Madrid not to secure employment but to continue his education. In spite of his supreme confidence in his own ability he felt that he was not quite yet ready to enter upon a professional career. He strongly believed in the formula, to easy earning through hard learning. Accordingly he spent his days in studying the artistic treasures of the capital. And his nights in conquering the hearts of the senoritas and the senoras. Whether single or married, a woman was to him equally desirable - and equally accessible. Very few could resist his impetuous wooing. With sword at his side and guitar in his hand he wandered through the streets and sang his way into the hearts of the ladies, whose stealthily written messages fluttered down to him from behind shuttered windows. The women adored him, and the men were insanely jealous of him. And they had every right to be jealous.

Sooner or later this heedless quest for the forbidden adventures of love was bound to cost him dearly. And, indeed, it came near to costing him his life. One early morning he was found in a side street with a deep dagger thrust in his back. In order to protect him from the ubiquitous eye of the Inquisition his friends kept him concealed for a time. And then, when he was well on the way to recovery, they hustled him out of Madrid.


Leaves Spain For Italy

This time Goya set sail for Italy. Here too, as in Madrid, he apprenticed himself to the study of the great masters of the Renaissance and Mannerism, including the short-live Caravaggio (1571-1610). He applauded the geometric precision of their design, he extolled the subtlety of their chiaroscuro, the dramatic quality of Caravaggism. He admired the accuracy of their observation, he worshipped the fire of their genius - and he refused to be influenced by any of them. For the greater part of his life his inspiration came from within rather than from without. He was the product of no school. His art was strictly and completely his own.

In Rome, as in Saragossa and in Madrid, he lived a life of romantic and perilous adventure. "At one time," relates Senor Cardarera, "Goya carved his name with his knife on the lantern of the cupola of Michelangelo" - a neck-breaking achievement-"on a corner of a certain stone which not one of the other artists, German, English or French, who had preceded him in the mad ascent, had succeeded in reaching." And on another occasion, "he made the circuit on the tomb of Cecilia Metella, barely supporting himself upon the narrow projection of the cornice."

These were but preliminaries to a still more dangerous adventure. He met a young girl in Rome, fell in love with her and proposed to marry her against her parents' consent. Warned in time, the parents placed her in a convent. Goya, determined to have his bride, attempted to break into the convent and to carry her off. He was captured and handed over to the police. Kidnapping a nun from the Holy Church was a serious matter. It was only the interposition of the Spanish ambassador that saved him.

Returns to Spain

Chastened, at least temporarily, Goya abandoned his impossible quest and returned to Madrid. Here his earlier escapade had been fortunately forgotten. Once more he met his old friend Bayeu, found that he loved Bayeu's sister, married her and settled down. His student days were over. It was now necessary for him to think of making a living. Again Mengs offered him a job. This time Goya accepted the offer. Having agreed to follow the instructions of his German employer, he took that artist's lifeless mythological figures and breathed into them the spirit of living men and women.

Thus far Goya had done nothing to prove his rank among the genuine artists of the world. He had been regarded merely as a playboy with a clever brush. Now, however, he revealed himself to a dazzled public as an inspired playboy. His riotous imagination, his daring design, his interplay of colour effect, his humour and his unerring instinct for the dramatic aroused the enthusiasm even of so hidebound a traditionalist as Mengs himself. As for the connoisseurs of Madrid who had been vainly seeking for signs of a new life in their national art, they greeted Goya's work with a veritable ovation. Goya accepted this public recognition of his genius with the same self-assurance with which he had accepted the smiles of his senoritas. Goya never suffered from excessive modesty - or, for that matter, from excessive vanity. He was merely conscious of a superior power within himself. "He knew now (at the age of thirty)," writes M. Charles Yriarte, "that he had only to take his brush in hand in order to become a great painter."

Goya the Genre Painter

For fifty years he wielded his brush, to the delight of his own generation and to the enrichment of the generations to come. He began with genre painting, telling colourful stories of the manifold activities of the people - bright, vibrating, vigorous scenes of plays, processions, bullfights, bandits, masquerades, courtships, seductions, dances, banquets, picnics, rambles, quarrels, reconciliations - in short, the entire panorama of Spanish life in the eighteenth century. These paintings are not always flawless in design. Some of the bulls, and at times even the human figures, are drawn with exaggerated anatomical proportions. But these exaggerations are always deliberate. They are calculated to produce a definite dramatic effect. When you look at them you have the feeling that if Nature hasn't produced such creatures, then Nature ought to have produced them. For Goya is a pictorial rather than a photographic painter. He is a realist with an imagination. And his art is so alive, so spirited, so impetuous, that it kindles a sympathetic spark of imagination in the most sluggish of his spectators.

Goya the Etcher

In this period of his art Goya acknowledged one master, Diego Velasquez (1599-1660). He made a series of etchings in which he reproduced the best of Velasquez' paintings. Reproduced, however, is the wrong word. It would be more exact to say that he re-created them. For Goya never was an imitator. Like Shakespeare, he put his own original stamp upon whatever ideas came into the mint of his universal personality. In the etchings which Goya published in 1778 he did no injustice to Velasquez. On the contrary, he did him a great service. It is as if he had borrowed a sum of money from a friend and had subsequently repaid him with interest. These etchings are today of incalculable value. They have also been enormously influential: the German symbolist genius Max Klinger (1857-1920) being only one of a number of artists inspired by Goya's work.

In addition to his genre pictures and his etchings Goya executed at about this time two religious paintings, Christ on the Cross and St Francis Preaching. These paintings, in spite of their luminous colour and their design, are inferior to his other work. For Goya did not quite feel at home in these subjects. His was not a religious nature. These two paintings have every artistic quality save one - reverence. To his contemporaries, however, Goya's religious pictures were as satisfactory as his other paintings and etchings. The Spanish public acclaimed their virtues and overlooked their faults. They now idolized him as their national painter, and they compelled the Academy of St Marc, in spite of the jealousy of its officers, to admit him as a member. Accordingly, on May 7, 1780, Goya was publicly honoured with the official title of "academician by merit."

Goya the Portraitist

Having proved his mastery of the genre painting and the etching and his ability to arouse the enthusiasm of his public with his religious pictures, Goya now turned his hand to another branch of art - portraiture. Here he was successful from the start. To be painted by Goya became the fashion - indeed, the passion - of the day. Now one of Spain's most famous painters, his studio was besieged from morning till night by wealthy and noble clients. This was all the more surprising because he never flattered any of his subjects. He painted them as they were, in all their physical imperfection and with all their moral shortcomings. "Here we are," they seem to say to the spectator, "a bunch of as arrant rascals as you'd ever like to see." This is especially evident in the two portraits of Maja, subject unknown but believed to have been the Duchess of Alba, and in the portrait of King Charles IV and His Family.

Maja Portraits

The two Majas are two pictures of the same woman, in exactly the same pose and with exactly the same expression on her face. In one of the pictures she is nude, and in the other she is dressed in a long transparent shift of thin white silk which is tightly folded around all the lascivious contours of her body. (It was intimated by some of his contemporaries that Goya painted the clothed Maja for her husband and the nude Maja for himself.) In both of the pictures she lies on a couch, her arms folded under her head which is raised on a pillow, and her body turned three quarters toward the spectator. The right leg is resting lightly upon the left leg. The curves of the body, the half-drowsy voluptuousness of the eyes and the seductive, subtle smile of the lips all seem to be concentrated upon a single thought, "I want to be desired." The picture produces a strange effect. It attracts but at the same time it repels. There is beauty in its ugliness, and there is ugliness in its beauty. The interpretation of the double portrait is written large upon every line and feature "What rascals ye mortal women be ... But what desirable rascals!"


Royal Portrait

The other portrait, that of King Charles and His Family, is even more indicative of Goya's contempt for the human race. Charles IV had conferred upon Goya the title of First Painter. But Goya, as is evident from this picture, did not confer upon Charles IV the title of First Spaniard. The features of the king and of most of the members of his family are vulgar in the extreme. They look like a family of labourers masquerading in royal robes. The king, with his hooked nose and his self-satisfied smirk; the queen, with her fat naked arms, her double chin and her heavily bejewelled features puffed up into a halo of pompous insipidity; the princes and the princesses of the Blood, twelve of them, each with a face as innocent of thought as that of the youngest one among them, a picture of Royalty in Decadence. Yet the king and the queen were proud of this picture. For they saw in it what they wanted to see - a great imperial family depicted in colossal proportions upon a canvas of enormous size. How Goya must have secretly smiled when he looked upon this finished handiwork of his - a brood of pitiable mortals, with the bodies of titans and the souls of fleas!

We now have about two hundred portraits which are known to have been painted by Goya. Nearly all the celebrated personages of the period submitted, at one time or another, to have their likenesses perpetuated by this relentless realist of the brush. The result - an eloquent commentary on the follies and the foibles of eighteenth-century Spain. But these portraits form only a small part of the pictures with which Goya represented the human comedy of his age.

Realist Painter of Spanish Society

He depicted the restless life of the city in The Blind Street Singer, The Pottery Market, The Vegetable Woman, The Runners on Stilts, The Carnival, The May Festival in Madrid, The Madhouse and The Bullfight. He immortalized the toils and the joys of the countryfolk in The Washerwomen at the Pool, The Harvesting of the Hay, The Attack on the Stagecoach, The Widow at the Well, The Village Wedding, The Water Carriers, The Country Dance, The Greased Pole and The Seasons. He pictured the horrors of war - for in spite of his turbulent spirit he hated the organized business of slaughter - in a series of devastating satires such as The Massacre of 1808, Forever the Same Savagery, The Beds of Death, The Hanging, The Garrote (a Spanish mode of strangling with an iron collar and a screw), Dead Men Tell No Tales, I Have Seen the Horrors and There Is No One to Help Them. Stark, honest, realistic, heart-gripping, these painted indictments of man's inhumanity to man. But most characteristic, perhaps, of all the pictures of Goya are his famous Caprices.

Goya's Caprices

These Caprices, done in etching and in water colour, have never been paralleled, either before Goya or after him. They are an entire world seen through a distorted looking glass, half realistic and half fantastic representations of beast-like humans and human-like beasts, scenes that depict the rapacity, the hypocrisy, the cruelty, the superstition, the licentiousness, the pomposity, the violence, the stupidity and the inevitable destiny of that creature called Man, who starts his life in hope and ends it in disaster. One of these Caprices, entitled Until Death, represents an old woman whose hands and whose face are already reduced to the semblance of a skeleton and who looks gloatingly into a mirror as she places a gorgeous bonnet upon her stringy hair, while her attendants look on and try their best to conceal their snickers behind their outstretched palms. In another of these Caprices, bearing the provocative title, The Tooth Hunt, a terrified woman is seen slinking toward the gallows, under the ghostly light of the moon, and tearing out the teeth ofa hanged criminal. Her purpose? To use these teeth as a charm against sickness.

Still another Caprice, entitled The Rise and the Fall, portrays the helplessness of Man in the hands of his Fate. A gigantic figure, with the legs of a goat and the face of a devil, has just taken hold of a man by the ankles and swung him aloft toward the sky. The man rejoices in his great good fortune and in his costly robes. There are flames spurting upward from his hands and his head. He is a king among his fellow men! In his ecstatic glee he fails to notice, poor little mortal, that other men, like himself, have just been raised aloft only to be dashed headlong to the ground. This pessimistic Caprice bears the following comment: "Destiny is cruel to those who woo it. The labour that it costs to rise to the top goes up in smoke. We rise only to fall." And so on. The Caprices of Goya are like an Inferno of Dante. But, unlike Dante, Goya depicts not the sufferings of the dead but the tortures of the living. And it would seem that Goya considered the Inferno of life to be even more tragic than the Inferno of death.

Last Days in France

The Caprices of Goya made him persona non grata with the Inquisition. For in many of the Caprices he had attacked the practices of this outmoded institution of the Middle Ages. Spain had become an unhealthy place for Goya to live in. Accordingly, in his late seventies, this old-young adventurer packed his brushes and his paints and went to end his days in exile at the French city of Bordeaux. Here he found a number of his compatriots, refugees from the tyranny of the new Spanish king, Ferdinand VII.

Settling down in the Spanish colony of Bordeaux, Goya began to paint anew. His eyesight was now so dim that he was obliged to paint with the help of a magnifying glass. Yet some of the pictures that he executed at this period, especially the miniatures that he painted on bits of ivory, are among the rarest artistic possessions in the world. While his dimming eyesight held out to the end, his hearing gave way completely. One of his friends describes him sitting at the harpsichord, playing a Spanish tune and bending his ear toward the instrument in a futile effort to catch the beloved song of his homeland.

In the early spring of 1828 he sent a letter to his son Xavier, who had written him from Madrid that he was coming to see him. "Dear Xavier," he said, "I have nothing else to say except that I am overjoyed at the prospect of seeing you, and that I am ill. God grant that I live to embrace you. My joy will then be complete. Farewell."

On the sixteenth of April he passed on to his final journey. He was buried quietly at Bordeaux. It was not until 1900 that the remains of the exiled First Painter of Spain were brought back to Madrid. He was given a splendid funeral at last. His casket was drawn by eight horses adorned with gilt plumes as the entire population of Madrid looked on. Too bad that Goya wasn't alive to paint this last of the Caprices of his cynical destiny. It might have been the greatest of his masterpieces.

Works by Goya can be seen in the best art museums across the work, especially in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

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