Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de

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Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de (1746-1828): Spanish Painter.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes is the most important Spanish painter between Velazquez in the Golden Age of the seventeenth century and Picasso in the twentieth century. Goya’s life spanned the Enlightenment, Neoclassicism, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. His art reflects this tumultuous period. He has been described both as the last of the great masters and the first of the moderns.

Goya was born in Fuendetodos in the province of Aragon. The son of a gold-plater, he attended drawing school in Zaragoza, and, at the age of twelve he worked at the workshop of José Luzán. He moved to Madrid in 1763, where he failed twice to receive a grant to study art in Italy. While in Madrid, he worked at the workshop of Francisco Bayeu, who was very prominent in the artistic and cultural scene of the moment. After traveling to Italy on his own, he returned to Zaragoza in 1771. Two years later in Madrid, he married Josefa Bayeu, the sister of his workshop master and court painter Francisco Bayeu. His brother-in-law helped him obtain a post at the Royal Industry of Tapestry painting sketches for the tapestries that adorned the walls of the royal palaces.

Early in his career, Goya specialized in painting folk scenes of life in Madrid. His paintings of fairs and picnic parties are gentle and full of light colors, and he is especially renowned for his depictions of the majas, the common women of Madrid, as they are engaged in entertainment accompanied by their men the majos. These popular characters are depicted dressed in their customary typical attire which became fashionable among the nobility of the time; the majas dressed with tied waists, small shoes and mantillas, and many of the majos muffled up in their cloaks.

Later, members of the aristocracy asked him to paint their portraits. Goya came to dominate this genre, producing masterpieces throughout the rest of his life. He is famous above all here for his shocking sincerity, for he was able to capture the most essential features of his subjects with great penetration and without flattery. In these works, one can discern the feelings of the artist toward his subject, whether it be sympathy, antipathy, or indifference. His most famous portrait was The Family of Carlos IV. One can see the limitations of the King, the strong and rascally personality of the Queen, and the resemblance between some of the children and Prime Minister Godoy. Because of the neoclassical influence, the figures are depicted standing with little movement.

In 1789, Goya was himself named Court Painter, but in 1792 he fell gravely ill. His recovery from this illness in 1793 was not complete, it considerably weakened him and he became totally deaf for the rest of his life. In these circumstances, feeling isolated, his imagination and work intensified. He resumed portraiture, but also began experimenting with smaller paintings, sketches, and etchings, uncommissioned works for which he was able to find a market. His first series of etchings, Los Caprichos (The Caprices), produced in 1796 and published in 1799, were a satirical critique of the vices, superstitions, and injustices of the society of his time, in which he presents his liberal Enlightenment ideology. But he abandoned this work, weary of struggling with the Santo Officio (Holy Office).

He was named to the post of First Court Painter in 1799, as his experimentation with new techniques began to influence his commissioned works. The most famous of these works are his Naked Maja (1796-1800) and Clothed Maja (1805). These paintings were the property of Prime Minister Godoy, who (it is said) hung one behind the other in such a way that one could lift the latter to reveal the former, thereby making them interchangeable. With these portraits, Goya broke with tradition by refusing to associate the nude with any myth or allegory. Furthermore, there are no ornaments or accessories in the paintings to distract the viewer from the reclining woman.

In 1808, Bonaparte, Napoleon forced the abdication of the royal family and installed his brother Joseph on the throne. The Spanish rebelled against foreign occupation and fought a war of independence against the French for six years. Goya depicted the brutality and horror of this war with his series Disasters of the War (1810-1814). In 1814, he commemorated the beginning of the uprising and its immediate aftermath with his famous pair of paintings, Dos de Mayo and Tres de Mayo. The former depicts the attack of the crowd on French and Mamluk troops, while the latter presents the execution of the rebels the following day in all its stark brutality.

The restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Ferdinand VII in 1814 led to the abandonment of any liberal reform in favor of reactionary policies. Disappointed by the course undertaken by the monarchy, Goya represented the regression of Spanish society in a series of four paintings. The Tribunal of the Inquisition displays religious persecution in closed, dark chambers; The Procession shows self-flagellating penitents in a traditional observance; Bullfight in a Village enacts spectacle; and The Madhouse invests madmen with the symbols of authority and spectacle. He followed this from 1816 to 1819 with a series known as the Disparates, or follies.

In 1814, Goya moved into a new house across the Manzanares River from the royal palace. Increasingly isolated, frustrated, and pessimistic, he painted here a famous series known as “The Black Paintings.” The Black Paintings present dark visions of the occult, the demonic, and the supernatural in which many traditional themes are transformed into horrors. They are shocking for the power of their visual presentation.

With the death of Ferdinand VII, Goya’s personal and political situation deteriorated. He engraved his famous Tauromaquia (the art of bullfighting) series and left Spain for voluntary exile in France in 1824, where he died in Bordeaux four years later. Too advanced for his time, he founded no school and left no followers.

Further Reading:

F. Klingender, Goya in the Democratic Tradition, 1948.

Janis Tomlinson, Francisco Goya y Lucientes 1746-1828, 1994.

Juliet Wilson, The Life and Complete Works of Francisco Goya, 1971.

Catalina Castillón