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Francisco de Goya
(1746-1828)


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Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was an innovative Spanish painter and etcher; one of the triumvirate—including El Greco and Diego Velázquez—of great Spanish masters. Much in the art of Goya is derived from that of Velázquez, just as much in the art of the 19th-century French master Edouard Manet and the 20th-century genius Pablo Picasso is taken from Goya. Trained in a mediocre rococo artistic milieu, Goya transformed this often frivolous style and created works, such as the famous Third of May, 1808 (1814, Museo del Prado, Madrid), that have as great an impact today as when they were created.

Early Training and First Projects

Goya was born in the small Aragonese town of Fuendetodos (near Saragossa) on March 30, 1746. His father was a painter and a gilder of altarpieces, and his mother was descended from a family of minor Aragonese nobility. Facts of Goya's childhood are scarce. He attended school in Saragossa at the Escuelas Pias. Goya's formal artistic education commenced when, at the age of 14, he was apprenticed to a local master, José Luzan, a competent although little-known painter in whose studio Goya spent four years. In 1763 the young artist went to Madrid, where he hoped to win a prize at the Academy of San Fernando (founded 1752). Although he did not win the desired award, he did make the acquaintance of Francisco Bayeu, an artist also from Aragón, who was working at the court in the academic manner imported to Spain by the German painter Anton Raphael Mengs. Bayeu (the brother of Goya's wife) was influential in forming Goya's early style and was responsible for his participation in an important commission, the fresco decoration (1771, 1780-1782) of the Church of the Virgin in El Pilar in Saragossa.

In 1771 Goya went to Italy for approximately one year. His activity there is relatively obscure; he spent some months in Rome and also entered a composition at the Parma Academy competition, in which he was successful. Returning to Spain about 1773, Goya participated in several other fresco projects, including that for the Charterhouse of Aula Dei, near Saragossa, in 1774, where his paintings prefigure those of his greatest fresco project, executed in the Church of San Antonio de la Florida, Madrid, in 1798. It was at this time that Goya began to do prints after paintings by Velázquez, who would remain, along with Rembrandt, his greatest source of inspiration.

Years as Court Painter

By 1786 Goya was working in an official capacity for King Charles III, the most enlightened Spanish monarch of the 18th century. Goya was appointed first court painter in 1799. His tapestry cartoons executed in the late 1780s and early 1790s were highly praised for their candid views of everyday Spanish life. With these cartoons Goya revolutionized the tapestry industry, which, until that time, had slavishly reproduced the Flemish genre scenes of the 17th-century painter David Teniers. Some of Goya's most beautiful portraits of his friends, members of the court, and the nobility date from the 1780s. Works such as Marquesa de Pontejos (1786?, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.) show that Goya was then painting in an elegant manner somewhat reminiscent of the style of his English contemporary Thomas Gainsborough.

Etchings and Later Paintings

In the winter of 1792, while on a visit to southern Spain, Goya contracted a serious disease that left him totally deaf and marked a turning point in his career. A mood of pessimism entered Goya's work. Between 1797 and 1799 he drew and etched the first of his great print series Los caprichos (The Caprices), which, in their satirical humor, mock the social mores and superstitions of the time. Later series, such as Désastres de la guerra (Disasters of War, 1810) and Disparates (Absurdities, 1820-1823), present more caustic commentaries on the ills and follies of humanity. The horrors of warfare were of great concern to Goya, who observed firsthand the battles between French soldiers and Spanish citizens during the bloody years of the Napoleonic occupation of Spain. In 1814 he completed Second of May, 1808 and Third of May, 1808 (both Prado). These paintings depict horrifying and dramatically brutal massacres of groups of unarmed Spanish street fighters by French soldiers. Both are painted, like so many later pictures by Goya, in thick, bold strokes of dark color punctuated by brilliant yellow and red highlights.

Straightforward candor and honesty are also present in Goya's later portraits, such as Family of Charles IV (1800, Museo del Prado), in which the royal family is shown in a completely unidealized fashion, verging on caricature, as a group of strikingly homely individuals.

Final Works

The Black Paintings, scenes of witchcraft and other bizarre activities, are among the most outstanding works of the artist's late years. Executed about 1820, these paintings are now in the Prado, Madrid. Originally painted in fresco on the walls of Goya's country house and now transferred to canvas, they attest to his progressively darkening mood, possibly aggravated by an oppressive political situation in Spain that forced him to leave for France in 1824. In Bordeaux he took up the then new art of lithography, producing a series of bullfight scenes, considered among the finest lithographs ever made. Although he returned to Madrid for a brief visit in 1826, he died in self-imposed exile in Bordeaux two years later, on April 16, 1828. Goya left no immediate followers of consequence, but his influence was strongly felt in mid-19th-century painting and printmaking and in 20th-century art.




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