Artist Stories

Did Goya Make a Career?

Magda Michalska 17 June 2023 min Read

Goya’s paintings are often disturbing and very very dark. It’s because his activity coincided with the last period of the Enlightenment, the rule of the Inquisition, and the trauma of the Napoleonic Wars. Let’s trace the development of his style and iconography to see whether we can say that he made a career.

Early Works 1760s-1790s

Francisco Goya, A woman and two children by a fountain, 1786, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain
Francisco Goya, A Woman and Two Children by a Fountain, 1786, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain.

He began working in Catholic Spain as a portrait painter to the aristocracy, and the royal family. Born near Saragossa to a family of craftsmen, he trained in Madrid and, briefly, in Rome. From c.1775 he was producing tapestry cartoons for the Royal factory which were usually genre scenes of peasant fetes and carnivals.

San Fernando Academy and Painting for the King

Francisco Goya, Charles IV of Spain and his Family, 1800-1801, Museo Del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

He was a liberal figure much influenced by republicanism, anti-clericalism, and radicalism of French Enlightenment philosophy. Initially, he was a supporter of Napoleon, yet as the Napoleonic Wars in Spain resulted in massacres, the trauma of the contradictions between his ideals and reality, coupled with the illness which left him deaf, produced personal crises for the artist and was the source of his rich creativity.

Peninsular War & Spanish Uprising

Francisco Goya, Here neither, in: Disasters of War series, 1815,Goya Make a Career
Francisco Goya, Here Neither, from the Disasters of War series, 1815.

Having reconciled himself with the restored Spanish monarchy he began a series of etchings The Disasters of War from 1810 to 1820. These examined the atrocities of the Peninsula War and presented a profound indictment of the horrors of warfare. In 1815 Goya was summoned before the Inquisition. He had to account for his tacit support for the French, and, for the “pornographic”’ image of The Clothed Woman (La Maja Vestida).

His Late Works 1819-23

Francisco de Goya, Asmodea or Fantastic Vision, c. 1820-1823, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

In 1819 Goya suffered a severe physical/mental breakdown and in 1824 he applied to the Spanish King for leave to retire. He left for Bordeaux, in France, where he died in 1828. His late works, so-called Black Paintings (Pinturas Negras), were filled with demonic and grotesque images, expressive of his torment. He painted them on the walls of his house, yet the murals are now transferred onto canvas for all to see.

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