Goya: A New View
By: J. Marlando
As an ex-art critic I have often contemplated Francis de Goya y Lucientes as a man as well as an artist for quite a long time. Actually for a painter also called a genius there is not a great deal known about his private life or, if you will, inner life. Van Gogh, for example, is historically open to psychoanalysis that at least gives us a glance into his soul-self but Goya is far more allusive and far more mysterious of a personality to give us easy entrance into his psyche life. His black paintings, an example seen here
Goya was born in a quiet village located in northern Spain in at the end of March in 1746. He began showing artistic talent as a small boy and after his parents moved to Saragossa, the young artist was made apprentice to Jose Luzan, a well-known local painter. Demonstrating (real) talent he would later go to Italy and study there. When he returned to Saragossa, he painted frescoes for the town’s local cathedrals and quickly gained a reputation for his work.
His commercial success, however, arrived only when he was established as a painter of the Spanish aristocracy and elected to the Royal Academy of San Fernando; an honor bestowed in 1780. By 1795 he became director of painting at the Academy and in 1799 he was appointed as first Spanish court painter.
One of my favorite portraits wasn’t painted until around 1805 of Dona Isabel de Porcel, the wife of the Spanish gentleman, Antonio Porcel whose history seems a little vague but who, it is said, was 25 years older than his 20 year-old bride:
One can easily note the magnificent freshness of youth that Goya
captures; the colors of the hair and face are spring-like, bright and
cheery. Yet, he clads her in the old-traditions of Spain; her black,
Silk gown is a symbol of Spanish wealth and sophistication. She is
posed more determined than her youth supports but Goya strives
to give the lady an aristocratic richness, giving her an
aloofness from the viewer.
Goya, not unlike a great many other master painters was enthralled by the female form. Nudes, however, were rather bold for the times especially as revealing as this one with title, The Naked Maja. It was so controversial in fact, that the Spanish Inquisition ordered Goya to reveal who the “scoundrel” was who commissioned the painting. There is no historic account that Goya ever complied but these were extremely dangerous times in Spain for anyone to defy the church; the church, by then, was well known for torturing and executing anyone they deemed heretics, before “confiscating” their property.
The Nude Maja is no innocent, sleeping beauty; she is seductive
and alluring as she reclines on a bed of pillows, mischievously
exposed. The shape is exquisitely feminine and the colors
of the skin tones contrasted against the white pillows and dark
background, are an adventure in realism. No one knows for
sure just who this lady is. Some say the Duchess of Alba who
the artist is suspected of having an affair with. (I personally
doubt this theory however).
Finally, Goya created a second painting—in 1803—called “The Clothed Maja.” This painting was a portrait of the same woman, in the same pose, only clothed. This painting was purchased by the same man who had purchased the naked Maja, Prime Minister Manual de Godoy who was well known for his womanizing. The Prime Minister kept both paintings in his home only with the clothed Maja covering the Naked Maja—he actually had a pulley system built permitting him to show the nude at will—probably great fun for him and his cronies?
Actually the clothed Maja takes on a glow that the naked Maja
lacks—note, the youthful, fresh colors of the face, far more
alive and energetic than the nude. Yet, there is an obvious
sexuality that also shines forth as the lady reclines on the
same bed of pillows and in an identical pose. I often wonder
if the politics of the inquisition had anything to do with
the second paining but I have nothing to base this on
except my own theorizing.
Another fascinating Goya is this portrait of an unknown woman.
Goya captures stark femaleness here; a beautiful feminine mystic
mixed, in Jungian terms, With a hidden animus quality. Yet the
ideal anima in many ways. That is, the perfect sister, mother,
friend and lover consolidated into one image. The portrait is
simply brilliant…a masterpiece of insight!
Speaking of Goya’s remarkable talent of capturing the feminine, after the artists’ first wife, Josefa Bayeu (who he had one surviving son with) it is typically agreed that Goya had a serious love affair with a young woman by the name of Leocadia Weiss.
Leocadia would have been a perfect match for Goya—she was intellectual, fiery and political. She also came from money. Leocadia had been married to a successful jeweler. They had two children but the marriage dissolved at the birth of the third—Rosario—and many say that little Rosario belonged to Francisco Goya. Indeed, the divorce was grounded in “elicit conduct.” (Leocadia was only 26 years old at the time).
It is said that one of Goya last paintings was of Leocadia Weiss,
his live-in lover, entitled, “The Milkmaid of Bordeaux.”
It is a genius piece but this portrait does not at all capture a
woman like Leocadia. The Milkmaid of Bordeaux is shy and
unassuming with an obvious inner beauty. An opposite of what
we know of Leocadia. This loving work has to be of his daughter,
Rosario. There are many other theories on this particular
painting not excluding that the “milkmaid” was
exactly that: a young woman that delivered milk from donkey
back in Bordeaux. I hold to my own view however that this
was Goya’s daughter.
Goya was, as is well known, an intellectual and a student of the so-called Enlightenment—certainly his sardonic humor was revealed though his paintings of royalty. While court painters typically did all they could to make their subjects look proud, profound and transcended above the masses, Goya did not. In fact, he dwelled—all but openly—on their pomposity, neurotic fears and insensitive elitism. In the painting below he centers the rather garish queen because, in public whispers, it was said that she actually ruled the roost; the child holding her hand looks angry for simply being there (he probably was) but, then again, the entire family appears masked in its own self-esteem.
Had any of the royal family understood how Goya was depicting
them, he could have been arrested and/or even executed.
Charles the IV, as seen above, would not have taken Goya’s
“painted metaphors” lightly. Nevertheless, the artist, it seems
was “greatly admired” by the royals or at least so it seems.
Actually, Goya was a forerunner to the unfolding of romanticism; a movement that supported intuition and emotion over the stark so-called rationalism of his times. Beyond all else Goya was an observer of mankind’s absurdities and cruelties. In this rather cartoonish rendering, the artist depicts a man whose head is sticking out the rear end of a horse.
Actually the painting is based on a stark truism; an oppressive official by the name of Lampinos was taken prisoner by a mob of people and sewn inside a dead horse. (The man actually survived the night in the rancid, smelling dungeon he had been imprisoned in). I do not believe Goya saw an ounce of humor in this but rather a rash reminder of man’s grotesque inhumanity to man.
With the above in mind, we will now attempt to learn more about Goya’s inner-being and to gain greater insight into the man behind the brush. In order to do this we have to take a step back into the artist’s life and times.
Young Francisco Goya’s life started with much enthusiasm and zest for life—certainly showing a (true) talent to paint would have gained the boy, Goya, much attention and admiration. Indeed, he would be sent to Italy to study with the master painters there. Returning to Spain he began gaining his own reputation by painting frescoes for the local cathedral—certainly his classical training in Italy would have served him well for his religious traditions.
Goya would often use local people to pose for his frescoes
as seen below. Thus, some of his “characters” are quite
fascinating to look at in these works. And, it was works
like these that first launched the artist into popularity.
In this sample of Goya’s splendid fresco work, he was
enduring vertigo painting from the high scaffolding so
the concentration works like these took must have been
extremely demanding as below painting alone took
months to complete.
In 1773, only a couple of years at his frescoes Goya met and married Josefa Bayeu, the sister of a fellow local artist. As so many other people during those times they had many children but only one survived—a son, Xavier.
In 1775 Goya began painting for the Royal Tapestry Factory in Madrid putting out excellent work as seen below.
During this same time he became known for his portraits and of the Spanish aristocracy and by 1780 was named painter to the king in 1786 as already mentioned on an earlier page. Secretly, Goya was extremely judgmental of his wealthy subjects and of the ruling elite of his times. We have already seen his sardonic humor flowing through the family of Charles IV. It wasn’t only civic corruption that Goya no doubt observed but church corruption that had been so blatant throughout his life; the inquisition not only gave ways of solving the problems of Jews and Islamic followers but enriched the church at the same time. This would have greatly bothered a man as sensitive and as intelligent as Goya. What we cannot neglect to recognize, however, is that for a man to be misanthropic as Goya apparently was (or became) a person must have a great deal of love for the human race. It is a paradox to contemplate when contemplating Goya.
In 1792 the Artist, Francisco Goya, took seriously ill with a disease that is still mysterious even in our own advanced times although some analysis has been offered. Whatever the sickness really was it left the artist permanently deaf and becoming more and more withdrawn from his corrupt world and, no doubt, far more judgmental of Spain’s leadership and its apparent elite. Then French forces invaded Spain in 1808.
As an aside: By the year 1808 France was dominating most of Europe including Austria, Prussia and Russia. Napoleon
Goya obviously despised war, seeing it as the ultimate human folly. Here is a sample of Goya’s opinionated work in a painting titled, The Third of May.
What is most interesting about Goya’s “war art” is that unlike other artists who painted heroic acts by heroic men (and sometimes even women), the war paintings of Goya captured the horrors and hardships of the individual indeed, with all his romanticism, he does not at all romanticize the battlefield but
Around 1819/1820 the master painter moved to a country house near the Manzanares River just outside of Madrid. It was here that he would spend his remaining years, mostly in isolation. Some would say these were his most cynical years but I believe they were his most contemplative. At the time of his move to the country he had lost favor in the courts, Spain was in war again against places and people they had occupied over the years and wanted their liberation. The artist was well into his seventies at this time but continued to paint…for himself!
This in itself is extremely interesting as Goya truly did not want to share the last of his painting with anyone. In this way he had become a real recluse, a man living and breathing in his own thoughts and feelings. This famous painting, “Saturn devouring his children” was actually painted on the wall of his house and only later recreated on canvas for the world to see.
This painting belongs to what would come to be called Goya’s
black or dark period paintings is a statement of the artist’s
brilliance as the work signals futuristic Impressionistic style
and the most early unfolding of modern art.
Here is a small selection of other so-called dark paintings done by Goya:
Francisco Goya would eventually move to Bordeaux France; a statement perhaps to Spain’s royalty…or perhaps a suggestion of the throne…or perhaps he was simply tired of the throne’s oppressive ways? He was older then—in his early 80s—and would die at age 82, on French soil, in 1828.
He was buried in a small churchyard in Bordeaux but near the end of the 19th century, there was a great resurgence of Goya popularity and Spain’s government asked France for a return of Goya’s bones. France agreed and exhumed the body. There was a problem—someone had stolen the head, (some believe for phrenological study) and it has not been recovered to this day.
Francisco de Goya was a man of depth and mystery to say the least; a gigantic talent, a brilliant mind and a heart of compassion camouflaged, however, by his sardonic humor and hidden behind his soured temperaments. In this light, I believe it is safe to say that this artist recognized the irrational in human thought and action; the self-serving, cruel and empty pomposity of people, especially people of rank. From this prospective he recognized the horrors of war and war’s terrible motives. Among his “black paintings” is the old couple eating soup, a rather ghastly look at the human condition.
Goya’s time followed the so-called Enlightenment into Romanticism, an era yearning to add heart or, in other words, subjective feelings into the mind’s frigid constraints. The organized church is an intellectual exercise and Goya had insight into this as he had insight into the pomp of the royals and of the social hierarchy itself; the nonsense of titles, labels and other traditions. This insight obviously allowed him to paint more freely than other painters who had condemned themselves to one style or another; a major reason why he could father modern art in the way that he did.
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