Francisco José
de GOYA y Lucientes

1746 - 1828


In 1772, Goya won second prize in a competition opened by the Academy of Fine Art of Parma, for best painting representing the following subject: The victorious Hannibal gazes for the first time over the plains of Italy from the peaks of the Alps.

The Mercury de France spoke of this competition and made various remarks about it, of which: "The Academy (of Parma) was glad to notice in the second picture a fine use of the brush, a look full of meaning in the face of Hannibal and a true grandeur in his bearing. If M. Goya had not drifted so far from the subject in his composition, and had been more true to nature in his coloring, he might perhaps have secured enough votes to bear the first prize." This picture in unknown and there's no reason for disputing the Mercury's opinion, but it's not strange that a man of Goya's character should have failed to submit to so big, un pictorial and pedantic a subject as that set by the Academy. It is also natural, considering the artistic ideas current then, that connoisseurs should have found Goya's coloring far removed from nature as conceived by the artists of the day.

Goya went to Rome, where he met Louis David. In 1776 Raphael Mengs, then the arbiter of art matters in Spain, proposed to Goya that he should go to Madrid and paint cartoons for the tapestries produced by the manufacturers of Santa Barbara. Goya accepted and turned out many splendid designs. In the same year he married the sister of the painter Francisco Bayeu.

Goya practiced the art of engraving, executing copies of Velázquez's pictures and wonderful original works such as the series called Los Caprichos, Los Proverbios, Los Desastres de la Guerra and La Tauromaquia.

From Los Caprichos.

In 1780 he became a member of the Madrid Academy of Fine Art; in 1789 King Charles IV appointed him to be court painter; in 1803 the Royal Print Room bought the eighty plates that make up the series of etchings known as Los Caprichos, in 1798 Goya finished painting the decorations of the church of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid, which work he executed in tempera with a most resourceful technique, for some of his backgrounds were certainly done with sponges soaked in the watery color, a method of filling in great expanses to which he resorted in his later productions. He used the palette knife to lay on the paint and also molded it with his finger, rubbing in with a rang to cover the background.

At the time of the Napoleonic invasion Goya was court painter to Joseph Bonaparte; and aftewards held the same post under Ferdinand VII.

In 1824 he went to France, visited Paris and settled at Bordeaux, where he lived a colony of distinguished Spaniards. He returned to Madrid in 1826, where his portrait was painted by D. Vicente López, and obtained a pension in virtue to his post at court, after which, having had unlimited leave granted to him by the King, he returned to Bordeaux where he died on April 16, 1828 at the age of 82 years, painting to the last.

The Prado contains an excellent, representative collection of his work in all its phases. True it is that the frescoes are missing, but those with which be adorned El Pilar and the Carthusian Convent of Aula Dei at Zaragoza are so un personal and of auch slight artistic merit that they must be regarded as a near freak in his career. The paintings in San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid, which are in tempera, are quite unlike the foregoing, between the two series there is all the difference that separates personal work from stuff turned out under a foreign influence that was never really assimilated by the artist's temperament.

From Tauromaquia.
Criticism, in its judgment of the merits of Spanish artists, gives the palm to El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. These three painters are of widely varying temperament and express the three great aspects of our national pictorial art: the mystic in El Greco, the courtly and realistic in Velázquez and the popular in Goya. At the same time, these three masters represent the three great phases of our modern painting: El Greco ends the medieval period and opens the modern; Velázquez stands with Rembrandt on the highest point attained by modern painting, the age of which Goya closes and begins the contemporary epoch, for his latest work joins hands with Manet's. In the actual work of appreciating the artistic value of our painting, each one of these three masters has not yet had his exact importance and significance assigned to him. All three occupy the same rank with no distinction and this is not as it should be.

Velázquez has been placed so high, he has been and is the object of so much praise, that he is as it were removed from the gaze of calm and reasoning criticism, and enveloped in mantle of glory under which it is difficult to make out the form of the most talented painter ever produced by the modern world. El Greco and Goya are two artists who stand in diametrical opposition to Velázquez. The latter progression was straight and one sided, the development of his art as logical as that of a mathematical problem; from the beginning to the end, from his paintings at Seville (The Water Carrier, the Old Woman Frying Eggs) to the Family of Philip IV, the Thread Spinners and the Hermits, we observe this serene movement, untroubled by doubts or discouragement's. The painter questions art and life, sure of a prompt and clear answer, and moreover chooses questions the answers to which his temperament may easily grasp. In his work is none of the nervous unrest of the man who knows that the enigmas of life and art must crop up ever more numerous in his path, but the firm calm of one who knows that his eye will always be able to seize the clear and diaphanous truths that fall within his temperament sphere of action.

Velázquez would rather read intensely in his own noble and well balanced mind than probe the mind of others in quest of these characteristics, good or ill. All his people show the nobility and goodness which we recognize in the painter's portraits of himself; where his canvas bears the poor image of a degenerate, he dips his brushes in his heart and finds there a feeling of deep pity and tenderness which lingers round those wretched faces like the fragrance breathed forth by some humble flower.

Young Girls (The Letter).
Goya is all the opposite. His path in art was not straight but winding; we must follow in him the development of a complex, by no means a one-sided personality.

Let us compare the joy of living that informs his tapestry cartoons with the unbridled rage of the massacres depicted in his canvases and etchings of the scenes of war. A glad light and festive coloring shine forth out of his tapestries; tragic shades, hoarse notes and violent chromatic chords are those which express pictorially the artist's vision of life in his declining years; now the cry of agonized compassion of the Para eso habéis nacido (For this were you born), now the brutal and bloody ferociousness of Saturn Devouring His Son, which he painted on one of the walls of his own dining-room. What a contrast between these decorations and the enchanting tapestries representing La Gallina Ciega (Blindman's Buff), La Vendimia (The Wine Harvest) or La Feria de Madrid (The Fair at Madrid).

In Goya the unforeseen comes up at every step. His glance is constantly scrutinizing life and his works reflect the problem of human fate, cruel satire, the most tragical poem ever produced by art, alternating between the fevered doubt of the soul and the radiant hope of light. His work is fraught with passion, nervous, exalted and vibrant like El Greco's, and, like the painter of the Burial of the Count of Orgaz, he succeeds astonishingly or fails. Both men drew marvelously, both are guilty of error like the atrociously disproportioned bodies of El Greco or the horribly bad horse in Goya's equestrian portrait of Palafox.

El Greco and Velázquez painted portraits after their own spiritual semblances: in Velázquez, goodness and nobility; in El Greco, dreaming mysticism, sad and full of longing. Goya probes the dephts of his sitters' personalities, seizes their moral countenance and fixes it with a firm touch on g¡his canvcas. See in the Prado the delicate elegance of Tadea Arias, the vulgar type of Maria Luisa, the noble and stern bearing of General Urrutia, the evil face and false look of Ferdinand VII, who drags his royal robes like a bad actor across the vile scene of his court! Compare the tender, domestic happiness of Velázquez's Family of Philip IV with the cold and merciless psychological observation of Goya's Family of Charles IV.

Tadea Arias.
In the first picture we have a portrait that turns into action, a portrait at once of royal persons and of the intimate life of a home. Goya's group is a falily without home or affection, exhibited with the cold and disdainful psychological analysis which he applied to his royalties. The canvas dates from 1800; shortly afterwards these people begin the tragedy of Spain: first Charles IV and Maria Luisa, then Ferdinand VII and finally his brother Don Carlos.

Goya's technique is as surprising and complex as his ideas and feelings. He gives us exuberant color in his tapestries of La Romería de San Isidro or his Family of Charles IV, strong shades and contrats in the Clothed Maja, most delicate, pearly tones in the Naked Maja and the portraits of Bayeu and the Family of the Duke of Osuna. His figures and landscapes are now bathed in light, now plunged in darkness. A vibrant note of light rings in the picture, or it sinks down to the lowest sounds the palette can give forth, as if the gale of tragedy had blown out the flaming torches. Who could have foreseen that the author of the Family of Charles IV and of the tapestries would cover the walls of his house with brutal scenes of the ravings of a madman, dark tones and violent chords like some horrible nightmare?

Goya's soul saw pass in procession all the events of his time, which were portrayed there, with their images and passions as in a mirror. First the gladness of a people, and later the tragedy of this same people raised for the first time to the rank of the principal character in a painter's work. Genius alone can penetrate into the obscurest folds of men's souls, Genius alone can, at each step, cross question life, life which is made up of struggle and passion, grief and joy.

Rafael Domenech
Translated by Royall Tyler