April 10, 2015

Francisco Goya - Crazy like a Genius

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes born in Spain in 1746 was a romantic painter regarded both as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns.

Goya's evolution as a painter is one of the most remarkable in all of history. His early paintings such as the ones he produced as court painter to the Spanish Crown or the many magnificent portraits he made on commission for Spanish nobility are, compared to the work he put out later in life, different as night and day.

At age 14, Goya started his studies under the painter José Luzán. Around 1765, in his late twenties he designed some 42 patterns, many of which were used to decorate the bare stone walls of El Escorial and the Palacio Real del Pardo, the residences of the Spanish monarchs near Madrid. This brought his artistic talents to the attention of Spain's ruling families who later would give him access to the royal court.

During the 1780s, his circle of patrons included many of the kingdom's most notable people, including the Duke and Duchess of Osuna and even the King, Charles III, himself. It was the king who in 1786 gave him a salaried position as court painter. After the death of Charles III in 1788 and revolution in France in 1789, during the reign of Charles IV, Goya reached his peak of popularity with royalty.

His luck was not made to last. At some time between late 1792 and early 1793, a serious illness left Goya deaf, and he became withdrawn and introspective. Worse, French forces invaded Spain in 1808, leading to the Peninsular War of 1808–1814 which he documented in a series of 82 prints, known collectively as the Desastres de la Guerra, a masterpiece of studied ambiguity.

The horrors of war, the death of his wife, and the loss of his hearing made him shy away from the world. He isolated himself from others, locking himself in his home, and as he grew ever more pessimistic, so did his art grow darker and darker.

It was there, in his own home, that the then 75 year old Goya, alone and in mental and physical despair, created frightening and obscure paintings of insanity, madness, and fantasy. Most notably the so called black paintings, a series of 14 with intense, haunting themes, reflective of the artist's fear of insanity and his outlook on humanity. Several of these, including Saturn Devouring His Son, were painted directly onto the walls of his dining and sitting rooms.

Goya did not intend for the paintings to be exhibited, did not write of them, and likely never spoke of them.

Through his works he was both a commentator on and chronicler of his era. The subversive imaginative element in his art, as well as his bold handling of paint, provided a model for the work of artists of later generations, notably Manet, Picasso and Francis Bacon.


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