Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya

He is considered the most important Spanish artist of late 18th and early 19th centuries and throughout his long career was a commentator and chronicler of his era. Immensely successful in his lifetime, Goya is often referred to as both the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns.

Francisco de Goya was born in Fuendetodos, a small village in the Aragon region in northern Spain. Soon the family will establish at Zaragoza, the capital of the Aragon province. Goya followed the Jesuits school after which he entered as an apprentice in the workshop of painter José Luzán Martinez, where he will practice the art of drawing by copying engravings. In 1763, he tried to join the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, but was rejected. He continued his artistic development under the direction of Francisco Bayeu. In 1773, Goya married Josefa, the younger sister of his master. Goya will try once again to enter at the San Fernando Academy in 1766, but he will again be rejected. In 1795, he will be appointed as director of this institution.

By the end of 1769, Goya will go to Rome, where he will remain until June 1771. In Italy, he received a scholarship from the Academy of Parma, which ambitioned him to continue his artistic work, so that on his return to Spain, Goya already hold a master certificate. He establishes in Zaragoza and decorates the Sobradiel palace, paints a mural on the small dome of the cathedral El Pilar and performs a cycle of paintings for the monks from Aula Dei.

In 1792, the artist gets sick from a disease which is unknown. After a convalescence period spent in Andalusia, the painter returns to Madrid, but was and remained deaf. The disease has affected the physical and mental state of the painter, which is reflected in his art: it gains inner strength and becomes more expressive. Only now the true genius of Goya is born.

In 1795, Francisco Goya met the Duchess of Alba. The beautiful lady, who was left a widow, invited him to her residence in Andalusia, at Sanlácar, located near Cadiz. The Duchess proves inconsistent in her feelings, however, and the idyll doesn’t last long. Goya’s works from this period show a sharp maliciously critical sense. With his brush he will mock everyone, even the royal persons. A proof of these actions is for instance the famous painting “Portrait of the family of Charles IV” during the years 1800-1801. The artist saw the Spanish monarchy with a lucid eye. Writer Ernest Hemingway exclaimed at the sight of the painting: “On each of these faces Goya printed his contempt towards them. You have to be a genius to convince the King of the opposite, too stupid indeed to notice that the court painter condemns them in the eyes of the whole world”. Indeed, the artist exposed the prominent vanity and mediocrity of the portrayed persons.

Charles IV of Spain and His Family and The Family of the Duke of Osuna
Charles IV of Spain and His Family and The Family of the Duke of Osuna


In his state duties, but also in the conjugal ones, the King is replaced by Manuel Godoy, his young and ambitious prime minister. For this perky man, hated by the Spanish people who called him “The butcher” (“chorizero”), Goya painted the famous paintings “La Maja Desnuda” (“Naked Maja”, 1799-1800) and “La Maja Vestidos” (“Dressed Maja”, 1800-1803). “Maja Desnuda” is one of the rare Spanish nude paintings and is also one of the most famous. Unlike “Venus Rokeby” of Velázquez, Goya presents the nakedness openly, almost challenging. The clear and direct felt sensuality can’t leave the viewer indifferent. Precisely for this reason, Godoy ordered a more conventional canvas of the same dimensions, showing a clothed Maja and covering the naked picture of Maja with it. The ruse was discovered in 1813 and the Inquisition confiscated both paintings. The identity of the painted person was surrounded by an aura of legends. For a long period it was told that the artist used as a model the Duchess of Alba, changing her physiognomy, the beautiful head of the woman giving the impression that it was stuck to the body, like Goya painted the lover’s body in such a way that it can’t be recognized by other eyes. Probably Goya used as a model one Godoy’s ramparts, but legends have a long life.

La Maja Vestida


Besides the paintings executed for custom persons, the painter has done engravings on thematic cycles. In “Los Caprichos” (“Caprices”, 1797-1799), in a total number of eighty prints, the artist shows fantasies which come to life when reason falls asleep and man’s will is governed by silliness, indignity, pain and unbridled desires. In the years 1810-1815, it followed a second cycle, “Los desastres de la guerra” (“Horrors of War”), during the war with Napoleonic France and the bloody suppression of the revolt in Madrid. The repression of the rebels will be subject to two famous paintings: “2 May 1808”, during the Massacre in Madrid, painted in 1814 and “3 May 1808”, during the shooting of the Madrid rebels, painted in 1814.

Francisco Goya’s wife, Josefa, died on 20 June 1819. A year later, he will move near Madrid, where he buys a house, which will name it with a sense of black humor “Quinta del Sordo” (“House of the deaf”), accompanied by Leocadia Weiss, who became his companion for life after the death of Josefa. The artist lives isolated from the world, his style becomes serious, the satire from his painting “Old women” (or “Hasta la Muerte”, 1808-1810) takes on macabre features in a cycle of fourteen gruesome scenes (1821-1823): “Two old men eating soup ”, “Saturn devouring his children” and so on, producing a stunningly depressing impression, often downright unbearable. In his creation, the roads of art and beauty were separated, the painted themes required other aesthetic categories, including “Ugly”. The artist’s gaze transforms the horror reality into works full of drama and cruelty.

In 1823, Ferdinand VII requires help to the French army to defeat the revolution that broke out in Madrid. In 1824, Goya goes to Plombières-les-Bains, a resort in the Vosges Mountains. After a month of visiting Paris, he establishes at Bordeaux. The fact that he was abroad didn’t weak his creative force. Goya painted bullfight scenes, portraits (“Milkmaid of Bordeaux”, 1827) and realized thumbnails. In the spring of 1825, Francisco gets sick and three years later, on 16 April 1828, he dies in Bordeaux. The artist’s remains will return to Spain at the end of the First World War. From Francisco Goya remained the well-known phrase: “The sleep of reason produces monsters”.

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