Goya is a figure who commands respect from Marxist-Leninists for his unflinching battles against the corruptions of the age in which he lived. As a painter and artist, his battles were waged with the brush and with the black and white prints and etchings. It is these latter that are especially famous for his exposure of the ruling classes. Some of these explicitly show the brutalities of war.

    This was a period during which the French and the English were warring for supremacy over Europe - and Spain was a mere battle-field for them. It may be argued that Goya's works are simply "anti-war", and do not distinguish the ideology behind wars. In Marxist-Leninist terms - he does not distinguish between "just" and "unjust" wars. However, Goya was depicting the guerilla warfare against the Napoleonic invasions. He was in reality, quite a "commited" artist.

    What made Goya such a great artist? We discuss his life and artistic development.

    Goya was born in Northern Spain, in Fuendetodos, the son of a master gilder. At the age of 14, he became an apprentice painter. Briefly, at the age of 24 years, he studied in Italy, but started his own career as a fresco painter of Saragossa Cathedral. His early works were executed in a rococo style. This emphasises 'decoration' and trivial details, as opposed to a concern with depicting natural or realistic detail.
    As the "Oxford Dictionary of Art' has it, it is a:

    It is significant that the art movement of Rococo flowered in the period of the decadence of the French monarchy, just prior to the French revolution.

    By 1775, he had been brought to the court in Madrid, by his brother-in-law, Francisco Bayeu, who was close to the King’s First Painter, Menges. As he studied in the Royal collections, he became influenced by Velázquez, which inspired him to a spontaneity of brush work and line. This became bonded to his growing appreciation of the style of neoclassicism.

    This art movement belonged to, and dominated the period of the democratic revolutions in Western Europe. It was associated with a "return" to Greek and Roman "standards". Of course the view of ancient society's democraticism was un-historical. Nonetheless, the proponents of the art - although naive, believed in the "heroic spirit" of ancient times:

    Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) had already introduced a new movement into Spanish art, whereby he imbued works with a reality, obeying his master's [Pacheco] injunction to 'go to nature for everything'. This realist thrust, imbued his work with a startling directness, which was new. The new appreciation for realism was a part of the new democratic movements. Even in backward Spain, this appealed to the rising bourgeoisie. But the aristocracy also now wanted realistic pictures to commemorate themselves by. Velázquez technical mastery allowed him great expressivity in his portraits. Goya followed.

    But, what really set Goya apart as a painter, was not his simple adherence to any academic school or another. It was his sympathetic and personal observations of people -- both rich and poor. Again Velázquez had gone before - for example in "An old woman cooking eggs"; or "The waterseller fo Seeville". But Goya made it truely his own territory.
    His first commission was to create a series of designs ("cartoons") for the royal factories of tapestries, between 1775 to 1792. In this period, Goya made genre paintings [scenes from everyday life] that honed his ability to penetrate feelings at the core of human life. Correspondingly, his given mandate to ‘beautify’ the Royal palace walls, was transformed into the production of sensitive and astute views of ‘Los Madrilenos’ - the peoples of Madrid. Notable is the "The Crockery Vendor".

    In this picture a rich haughty lady in her carriage, passes by the poor but dignified vendors. Also to be singled out from the Tapestry cartoons are the "Washerwomen" and the "The Wounded Mason". As are the tour-de forces of the Seasons, some of which were packed with members of the peasantry eking out their lives. A more austere one is ‘Winter’. In this picture, peasants are returning home, with a slaughtered pig, during the height of a famine [Patrica Wright; "Goya: Eyewitness Art"; London National Gallery; 1993; p.20].

    In these designs, the usually "unseen" and invisible -- the real people -- are sympathetically and realistically portrayed.

    After what seemed to Goya a considerable delay, he was elected to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1780. Quickly thereafter, he became very popular as a portrait painter to the Spanish aristocracy, being named Painter to the King in 1786, and First Painter to the King in 1789. His unflinching portraits can truly be termed the start of a new 19th century realism in art. It was his proud boast that:

    So, he had "arrived". But, being attuned to real sentiments, and having suffered several misfortunes, he pondered the fragility of power, fame and fortune. What were these misfortunes? His election to the Academy of painting had been blocked to him by his brother-in-law, who favoured his brother. Then a serious illness in 1792, left him permanently deaf. It was probably this that led him to a very real isolation, and forced him to turn an increasingly severe and coldly objective gaze upon society.

    This gaze documented all human pomp and fallacies in a highly original satire and caricature. It is clear that Goya was aware of, and admired the art of the English satirists such as William Hogarth. Probably, he knew the English prints that his liberal friend, the playwright Leandro Fernandez Moratin brought back to Spain. The prints of the English commentators, were widely seen as a reflection of Free Expression:

    Goya's satire may have been first inspired by English prints, but he soon eclipsed these by virtue of both his technical skills, and a very savage and acute vision. A particular target for Goya was the clergy.

    Spain at that time was a monarchic feudal system, inside of which democratic stirrings were being made by the developing bourgeoisie, and the ‘enlightened’ intelligentsia. Both were completely suppressed by the clerics of the Inquisition. It was in this milieu, that Goya published "Los Caprichos", [The Caprices] between 1797-1799. These etchings portrayed life’s circus, and were among the first political print series in the world. The Caprichios savaged society, and the clergy and the rich took the full brunt. In the print "Thou Who Canst Not" Goya showed how the rich asses and clergy, literally sit on and rely on the peoples. In this print, Goya seems also a little contemptuous of the poor for allowing this state of affairs.

    In the most famous print of this series, Goya shows the nightmares that result from "The Sleep of Reason".

    Revenge was initially muted, but within 15 days the Inquisition had suppressed the sale of the prints. At this stage Goya both at the height of his independent artistic powers, and ironically at the height of his court career.

    In this period, France under Napoleon was at war with Britain. In 1807, Napoleon recieved the Spanish aristocratic blessing -- of Prime Minister Manuel Godoy for the Bourbon King Charles IV - to enter Spain. Shortly after, riots protested the French take-over of Madrid, and the monarchy fled, leaving the French to declare Joseph -- a brother of Napoleon’s -- as King of Spain. Napoleon was pursued by the British armies under the Duke of Wellington. In 1812, Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Salamanca, and then Vittoria. Coupled with the guerilla resistance of the peoples, Napoleon was driven out of Spain.

    During this Spanish War of Independence from 1808 to 1814, Goya documented the horrors of imperial war. During this time, he was also the court painter to the French! This was because of his admiration of the principles of the French Revolution and the Enlightment. But the brutalities of wars in "Los desastres de la Guerra" ("The Disasters of War", 1810-14) were unflinching. See for instance "They Don’t Want To" -- showing the old woman defending the young woman being raped by a soldier; or "And They are Beasts". There are plenty of the series that do not include women, but it is interesting how many do show women resisting.


The series was only published posthumously in 1863. At the same time he painted "The Colossus" -- an allegorical image of the spirit of war as a giant who stalks over the terrified populace of Spain.

    But perhaps his most famous images of war and its aftermath, includes the picture on our cover page. This is one of a pair. In 1803 the peoples of Madrid had risen against the French. Contemporary writers state that Goya witnessed the events first hand the events shown in the pair of paintings - first the insurrection, then the next day the executions of the insurgents. First Goya showed the hopeless but magnificent insurgents launching themselves on the mounted mercenary troops of the Napoleonic army.

    The ensuing suppression was coupled with the executions of the rebels on the Third of May 1808.


    In these pictures, Goya "invented" the realistic, almost ‘journalistic’ snap-shots of brutal warfare. These pictures became iconic and formed the basis of many later works of art.

    When the French armies retreated, Goya was pardoned for serving the French. But a new intolerance had taken hold. Returned from exile, King Ferdinand VII, gave free rein to anti-liberal repressions. The Inquisition could now interrogate Goya about his portrait of "The Naked Maja", the first nude in Spanish art. This picture, in legend, was a portrait of the Duchess of Alba, with whom it was rumoured that Goya had an affair. Despite the persecution by the Inquisition, Goya continued to work for the court, perhaps purely for security.

    In any case he did not recant his views. From 1819 on, his most searing and best work was done totally in seclusion and for a private and personal purging of his artistic and political demons. This led him to the 1819 to 1824 house paintings performed in his seclusion, upon the walls of his house outside Madrid. Known as the "Black Paintings", they express horrors such as civil war -- in the allegorical "Fighting with Cudgels". As a symbol of the general intolerance existing in Spain, Goya showed Saturn devouring his own children.


    During these years the battle between the old feudal monarchist regime and the democrats intensified. Goya feared further reprisals, and yet produced the etchings of the series "Los Disparates" (The Follies). But fearing his safety, he fled to France. He died in exile in France, in 1828, aged eighty years old.

    His influence on future artists was enormous.
    He can be safely termed the inventor of the "Modern Realist". 



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