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:
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:
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
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".
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:
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:
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 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.
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.
His influence on future artists was enormous.
He can be safely termed the inventor of the "Modern Realist".
2. Web Sites
Especially for better & larger illustrations of the images [Note these sites were accurate at time of writing].
Perhaps the best overall site for Goya pictures:
For many of the Caprices:
For the complete Capricioso & selection of Disaster:
Note this is a commercial site!
For "The Disasters of War", a very good selection
The Black Paintings