Francisco de Paula José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) was Spain's greatest painter and printmaker during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a wayward genius who prefigured in his art the romantic, impressionist, and expressionist movements.
Born in Fuendetodos near Saragossa on March 30, 1746, Francisco Goya died a voluntary expatriate in Bordeaux, France. Tradition has it that a priest discovered talent in the boy upon seeing him draw a hog on a wall. Oddly enough, a testament submitted for the process of beatification of Father José Pignatelli disclosed (not detected until 1962) that he taught Goya, who "instead of paying attention, kept his head down so that his teacher couldn't see him and occupied himself in sketching…."Pignatelli ordered him to the front of the class but recognized an artistic gift in the sketches. The priest called upon José Goya, the boy's father, and advised him to dedicate his son to painting. Perhaps owing to this same priest's influence, Goya at 12 years of age painted three works (destroyed 1936) for the church in Fuendetodos.
Two years later, Goya was apprenticed to José Luzán y Martínez, a mediocre, Neapolitan-trained painter who set his pupil to copying the best prints he possessed. After 4 years of this training, Goya left. He went to Madrid in 1763 to compete unsuccessfully for a scholarship to San Fernando Academy. The tests ended on Jan. 15, 1764, and nothing is known of the artist until 2 years later, when he entered another academic competition calling for a painting of the following subject: Empress Martha presents herself to King Alphonse the Wise in Burgos to petition a third of the ransom required by the sultan of Egypt for the rescue of her husband, Emperor Valduin; the Spanish king orders the full sum to be given her. The competitors were granted 6 months to execute this theme; Goya failed again. On July 22 he entered a competition to sketch another complicated historical scene and lost for the third time.
Little is known of Goya's subsequent activities until April 1771, when he was in Rome. Two small paintings, both dated 1771 and one signed "Goya," were recently discovered: Sacrifice to Pan and Sacrifice to Vesta. The monumental figures are classical but executed with sketchy brushstrokes and bathed in theatrical lighting. From Rome he sent to the Academy of Parma for an open competition another painting, Hannibal in the Alps Contemplating the Italian Lands, and signed himself as a pupil of Francisco Bayeu in his accompanying letter. Although he was not the winner, he did receive six of the votes and laudatory mention. Immediately after he had received this news, Goya departed for Saragossa.
The aforementioned works, and a handful more, are all that is known of Goya's art between 1766 and 1771. Sánchez Cantón (1964) pointed out that there are no concrete incidents to document the usual explanation, adduced from his known temperament, that he was otherwise occupied in womanizing, bullfighting, and brawling.
In Saragossa, Goya received important commissions, which he executed with success. On July 25, 1775, he married Josefa Bayeu, Francisco's sister. Bayeu, who was a director of the San Fernando Academy, used his influence to help his brother-in-law. Goya was commissioned to paint cartoons of contemporary customs and holiday activities for the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Barbara. This work, well suited to his nature, lasted from 1774 to 1792. He completed 54 cartoons in a rococo style that mingled influences from Michel Ange Houasse, Louis Michel Van Loo, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and Anton Raphael Mengs.
Following an illness in 1778, Goya passed his convalescence executing his first series of engravings from 16 paintings by Diego Velázquez. Goya began to enjoy signs of recognition: he was praised by Mengs, named as a court painter by Charles III in 1779, and elected to membership in San Fernando Academy after he presented a small, classical painting, the Crucified Christ, in 1780. On the crest of this wave of approval, a quarrel with his important brother-in-law had serious consequences upon his career: in 1780 he was commissioned to paint a dome and its pendentives for the Cathedral of El Pilar in Saragossa. Bayeu suggested certain corrections in the domical composition, which Goya rejected. Then the council of the Cathedral took objection to certain nudities in his preparatory sketches for the pendentives and ordered him to submit his designs to Bayeu for correction and final approval. Goya accepted this condition, but afterward he declared he would "take it to court first." Later he wrote to a friend that, just to think about the incident, "I burn alive." This affair seems to have caused a hiatus (1780-1786) in his cartoons for the royal factory.
The King commissioned Goya in 1780 to paint an altarpiece for the church of S. Francisco el Grande, Madrid; this work, the Preaching of St. Bernardino, was completed in 1784. No works by Goya are known for the year 1782 and only portraits for 1783, among which is one of the Count of Floridablanca, First Secretary of State. Other portraits of this period include those of the members of the family of the infante Don Luis (1783-1784) and the brilliant portrait of the Duke of Osuna (1785).
The artist was back in favor sometime before May 11, 1785, when he was appointed lieutenant director of painting (under Bayeu) in the Academy of San Fernando. The following year he was again working on the tapestry cartoons, and in June he was named painter to the king. Bayeu, clearly reconciled, sat for his portrait in 1786. Goya also executed many portraits of the royal family and members of the nobility, including the very appealing picture of the little Manuel Osorio de Zuñiga (1788).
In 1792 a committee was appointed to reform the academic methods of teaching at the Academy, and the minutes read in part: "Señor Goya openly declared himself in favor of freedom in the mode of teaching and in stylistic practices, saying that all servile submission of a children's school should be excluded, as well as mechanical precepts, monthly awards, tuition aids, and other trivialities that feminize and vilify painting. Nor should time be predetermined to study geometry or perspective to conquer difficulties in sketching."
Goya fell gravely ill in Seville at the end of 1792. He was left totally deaf and underwent a personality change from extrovert to introvert with an intense interest in evil spirits, a temporary avoidance of large canvases, and a preference for sketches in preparation for prints. He was back at work in Madrid by July 1793, and that year he produced a series of panels which he presented to the Academy of San Fernando. They include a scene in a madhouse, a bullfight, and an Inquisition scene.
Goya received a commission from the noble house of Alba in 1795. Since he moved in aristocratic circles, it is clear that he must have known the duchess for some time before this. At any rate, after the duke's death in July 1796, she retired to her villa in Sanlucar, and Goya was one of her guests. Upon his return to Madrid in 1797, he painted the duchess in black but with a wide colored belt (therefore not a mourning garment), wearing two rings, one imprinted "Alba" and the other "Goya." He signed the work "Goya, always."
Whatever their relationship was, it is clear that Goya had high hopes. It is also true that in the spring following the duke's death the duchess's servants were gossiping in correspondence about her possible remarriage. Nevertheless, Señora Goya was still living, and Goya could not be the unnamed swain. In any event, the duchess never did remarry. At best, Goya's painting was a brazen flaunting of illicit hopes; at worst, a vulgar display of kiss-and-tell.
Goya's first great series of etchings, Los caprichos (1796-1798), were based on drawings from his Madrid Sketchbook. They include scenes of witchcraft, popular traditions, bullfights, and society balls. In the Caprichos Goya mercilessly and vindictively lampooned the duchess, depicting her in immodest postures; representing her as "a stylish fool" and adding, "There are heads so swollen with inflammable gas that they can fly without being helped by a balloon or by witches;" and likening her to a two-headed, butterfly brain of a "lie and inconstancy." The duchess died in 1802, following a long illness. Goya painted the Nude Maja and the Clothed Maja later (usually dated between 1805 and 1807). The heads in both appear to float, neckless, above the shoulders.
By the first years of the 19th century Goya was a wealthy man able to purchase an impressive home in 1803 and marry his son to an heiress in 1805. Simultaneously he was attracting the attention of the Holy Office of the Inquisition owing to the anticlerical satire in the Caprichos as well as his salacious subject matter. He donated all the Caprichos plates and the 240 unsold sets of the edition to the King under the pretext of seeking a pension for his son to travel; once the donation was accepted, the Holy Office perforce withdrew. The inquisitors did not forget, however; they investigated him again in 1814 concerning the nude and dressed Majas. Incomplete documentation leaves this incident obscure.
During the Napoleonic usurpation of the Spanish throne and the consequent War of Independence (1808-1813) Goya had an enigmatic record. With 3,000 other heads of families in Madrid on Dec. 10, 1808, he swore "love and fidelity" to the invader. In 1810 he attended the Academy to greet its new protector appointed by Joseph Bonaparte, but that same year he began work on his series of 80 etchings, Los desastres de la guerra (The Disasters of War), which, in many cases, is a specific condemnation of the Napoleonic war, although the expressionistic rendering makes the series a universal protest against the horrors of war. He finished the Desastres in 1814, the same year he painted the Executions of May 3, 1808, a grim depiction of a brutal massacre.
Goya applauded, understandably, the French suppression of the Inquisition and the secularization of religious orders. Yet in the joint will he made with his wife in 1811, he requested that he be buried in the Franciscan habit and have Masses offered and prayers said for his soul, and he made grants to holy places. His wife died in 1812, the year in which Goya painted the Assumption of the Virgin for the parish church of Chinchón, where his brother, Camilo, was the priest.
Goya executed two more series of etchings. Los proverbios (1813-1815; 1817-1818), or Disparates, as he himself called the series, are monstrous in mood and subject. The Tauromachia (1815-1816) is a series devoted to the art of bullfighting.
In 1819 Goya purchased a villa, La Quinta del Sordo (Villa of the Deaf Man), at a time when his son and daughter-in-law were estranged from him, perhaps owing to another affair. His housekeeper was Leocadia Zorrilla de Weiss, a distant relative who was separated from her German husband, by whom she had had a son and daughter. Goya was so fond of the latter, Rosario, born in 1814, that some believe he was her father. Goya frescoed two rooms of the villa with his "black paintings." These profoundly moving works are a strange mixture of the horrendous (Saturn Devouring His Son), the diabolic (Witches' Sabbath), the salacious (The Jesters), the devout (Pilgrimage of San Isidro), and the ordinary (Portrait of Leocadia Zorrilla, previously called Una manola). These subjects and the others in the series make an ensemble that is as puzzling to interpret psychologically as it is emotionally overpowering.
In 1823 political events greatly affected Goya's life: Fernando VII, discontented with the constitution that had been forced upon him, left his palace in Madrid and went to Seville. Two months later the Duke of Angoulême with "one hundred thousand sons of St. Louis" invaded Spain to help Fernando VII. Goya, a liberal, immediately turned over the title to his villa to his grandson Mariano and took refuge in a friend's house. The following year Goya sought permission to spend 6 months enjoying the waters of Plombières "to mitigate the sickness and attacks that molested him in his advanced age." All this time Goya was receiving his royal salaries (and continued to do so up to his death) even though he had ceased to create works as First Court Painter or to teach in the Academy of San Fernando.
When the King granted his request, Goya immediately went to Bordeaux with Leocadia and her children. A friend described Goya's arrival: "deaf, sluggish and weak, without one word of French yet so happy and so desirous to see the world." He went back to Spain in 1825 to ask to be retired and was granted permission to return to France "with all the salary." His paintings in Bordeaux, especially the Milkmaid of Bordeaux, indicate a release from his dark emotions. He died of a stroke on April 15, 1828, in Bordeaux.
There are many good books on Goya and his art. In English, José López-Rey, Goya's Caprichos (2 vols., 1953), provides an excellent understanding of Goya's tormented genius. A sensitive insight is given by André Malraux, Saturn: An Essay on Goya (1950; trans. 1957). See also Charles Poore, Goya (1938); Francis Donald Klingender, Goya in the Democratic Tradition (1948); Pierre Gassier, Goya: A Biographical and Critical Study (trans. 1955); Royal Academy of Arts, London, Goya and His Times (1963); Francisco Javier Sánchez Cantón, The Life and Works of Goya (trans. 1964); and Tomás Harris, Goya: Engravings and Lithographs (2 vols., 1964). □