A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Visions Of Goya

Francisco de Goya was the greatest painter of 18th century Spain. However his genius developed late. Until his 40s he was more a painter of convention - designing tapestries and covering up the 'rude bits' of nude figures in religious paintings (he was officially known as the 'Reviser of Indecent Paintings'). Then, in the early 1790s, everything changed. A mysterious illness (whether this was syphilis, a nervous breakdown or caused by lead poisoning from the use of white paint no one seems sure) left him temporarily paralysed, partially blind and permanently deaf. At the same time his art took a huge leap forward. He began to paint with such a freedom of line and expression that, even today, his later paintings reveal to the viewer a striking and disturbing modernity. The eroticism of this 1797 painting The Naked Maja landed him in big trouble with the Spanish Inquisition:

As you see, he'd come a long way since being employed as the 'Reviser of Indecent Paintings'. As well as exposing the voluptuous flesh of the maja, Goya also exposed the vindictive cruelty of the French occupying forces towards the Madrid insurrectionists in The Third of May 1808:

On a personal level things didn't get any easier for Goya. The horrors of the Napoleonic Wars depressed him profoundly. And his gloom deepened when his wife died in 1812. To crown it all, in 1819 another serious illness nearly killed him off. But all these setbacks only served to fuel his desire to create more and more works of edgy brilliance and stunning originality. He covered the walls of his house with nightmarish paintings (now called the 'Black Paintings') portraying the darker side of human nature - such as this one, Saturn Devouring One of His Sons:

And he produced the 4 large series of engravings I saw on my Camino walk in The Goya Museum at Castres: The Caprices (fantastical caricatures of contemporary life); The Tauromamaquia (a series on bullfighting); the Disasters of War (which show the devastating effects of war - no heroes or glory, only death and degradation); and The Proverbs (visual parables of human folly). These are shocking prints - hellish visions of the satanic, the destructive, and the just plain foolish aspects to humanity.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Not my cup of tea at all S.W!!!
When in Madrid I avoided the Prado so that I didn't have to see lots of Goya and Velasquez!!! The other two art galleries (names escape me) nearby had a wonderful selection of Picasso (including Guernica and Clarinetist). I think it is the depressing subject matter that puts me off (although I adore Bosch and his pictures of hell - so not sure what that says about me!)

The Solitary Walker said...

Goya's favourite painter was Velasquez (also Rembrandt) from the previous century - you can see their influence strongly in his work. I love these painters also.

For me, Bosch is interesting - but in a rather clinical and intellectual way. I can't really get into his paintings emotionally - too much weirdness and symbolism, too much going on.

forest wisdom said...

Thank you for this short but very informative tour of Goya. I think he was an outstanding talent.

I've been enjoying your blog. I've been reading for awhile, but first time commenter. Keep up the good work.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your kind comments, fw. I'm with you on Goya all the way. I also saw his painting 'Fernando VII' in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Santander - but that comes much later!

Anonymous said...

Weaver - you should go back - there's so much more in the Prado, including an incredible triptych by Bosch.

Really enjoying your walk SW!