Spanish painter Francisco Goya was regarded as the Father of Modern Art as well as the last in line of the Old Masters. He was the favorite court artist of the Spanish royal family during the late 18th century, which served as a springboard to achieving monumental heights of success and fame. In most years of his career stint he stayed in Madrid where various notable people such as Joseph Bonaparte sat for a portrait.
His attitude towards life and art had always been in the state of transition, moving from being lighthearted to becoming pessimistic. This kind of attitude might be reflective of the effects of the Peninsular War, Spanish Inquisition, among other significant events that took place during his professional years. He was a chronicler of his generation and painted them down on canvas and tapestry. These chronicles resulted to a series of art works such as The Disasters of War (1815), Caprichos (1799), and Black Paintings.
Aside from working on history paintings, Goya was also a fine portraitist during his middle years, being a court painter to the Spanish rulers. He painted portraits of Charles III, Charles IV, Duke of Osana, Marchioness of Pontejos, among many others. Some of his important works include The Maja series (1800-1803), Yard with Lunatics (1794), La Cometa (1778), and Charles IV of Spain and His Family (1800).
Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes was born on March 30, 1746 to a guilder Jose Benito de Goya and his wife, Gracia de Lucientes. Goya was raised in Saragossa, where his family moved into after living in Fuendetodos, Aragon for a number of years.
He studied in Escuelas Pias during his boyhood and befriended Martin Zapater. The two had been great friends since then and were in constant communication with each other as they exchange correspondence from 1770 to 1790. The correspondence served well in gaining a better understanding of Goya’s early training and career.
When he reached 14, he took art lessons under Jose Luzan Martinez, a local painter. His earliest works were mainly comprised of pastiches of the Old Masters as he tried to search for his own artistic style. He also found inspiration in the works of Rembrandt van Rijn and Diego Velazquez.
After completing his apprenticeship with Luzan, he moved to Madrid. He worked with Ramon Bayeu y Subias and Francisco Subias as the siblings opened a studio in 1763. There he met the brothers’ sister, Josefa whom to be his wife some years later.
Goya desired to advance his painting skills and knowledge so he traveled to Italy in 1770. He took his time studying the masterpieces of the Renaissance masters. He joined a couple of drawing competitions conducted by the Real Academia des Bellas Artes at Parma but he failed to win the top prize although the judges believed his talent was very promising.
In Madrid, he worked for Anton Raphael Mengs. The German painter asked him to produce tapestry cartoons for the Royal Tapestry Factory located at Santa Barbara. This was the first Royal commission that he received via the workshop of Mengs. And so, Goya produced a total of 63 prints, nine of which were placed at the dining room of San Lorenzo del Escorial palace and the other ten were used to decorate the dining area of El Pardo.
The tapestry cartoons depict the typical activities of the poor, rich, adults and youth when they are at leisure. These tapestries were executed in a highly decorative manner that made it comparable to Tiepolo’s style. One clear example of this comparison is The Blind Guitarist which was designed for the front wing at El Pardo.
However, the tapestry workers found Goya’s design quite complex so he had to revise his work by etching them on a colossal copperplate. This became one of the largest art works he ever made at the time and it is said that his inspiration for this work was the works of Diego Velazquez.
Goya’s association with Mengs through workshops earned him more royal commissions. His relationship with the Spanish Crown began in 1774 and after producing the tapestry cartoons he painted a few more portraits of executives from the Bank of San Carlos and the Count of Altamira. The portrait series began in 1785 and ended in 1788.
For the Count of Altamira, he also painted the Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter. In this portrait he demonstrated his natural skill in capturing the sensitivities of the subject which he executed by using broad brushstrokes and by adding details that would suggest wealth and grandeur. Additionally, he painted a portrait of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, in which he experimented with his treatment of light, surface scheme, and symbols.
In fact, when he painted de Zuniga’s portrait he included symbols such as caged birds to symbolize youth. Other portraits contained symbols that seemed to depict the country’s struggle with France’s annexation.
Goya was already 40 years old when he began working for King Charles III as a court painter in 1789. He remained so until Charles’ IV reign, and he was about to reach the maturity of his career. In 1793, France announced war against Spain which several of the events that transpired during this period had been an inspiration to Goya’s dark paintings.
Before the war broke out, he was already on his way to Cadiz, Andalusia together with art collector Sebastian Martinez y Perez. He painted portraits of Perez with a goal to capture the subject’s fierce attitude, facial expressions and social status by portraying the quality of his ornaments and clothing. At some point, Goya contracted an illness that made him deaf while in Cadiz.
Because of this illness, he was not able to return to Madrid until the end of 1793. Fortunately for the painter he recovered and in 1799, he received another commission by the royal patrons under which he had to create and publish 80 etchings titled Caprichos: Out Hunting for Teeth. The work was supposed to be an allegorical etching in full size and it introduced the dark world of witches and macabre tales to the Spanish audience.
The success of Caprichos earned him another promotion in the palace. He was the first court painter to have spent two years for painting full length portraits of Charles IV and his family. At that time, Diego Velazquez’ composition and style were still evident on Goya’s portrait technique such as placing the family in the foreground and himself in the background in the act of doing the portrait.
The reign of the incumbent Spanish Crown ended when Napoleon Bonaparte had successfully invaded the country in 1808. There was mass execution around the city as people tried to conduct a massive social unrest against Bonaparte’s invasion. Napoleon assigned his brother, Joseph, as governor of the country and Goya was left with no option but to succumb to Bonaparte.
During the early 19th century, he began painting portraits of Joseph Bonaparte and his French armies. His hard work earned him the Royal Order of Spain award in 1811. In 1814, the French army was toppled down and the Bourbon monarchy assumed the throne. Ferdinand VII was crowned as the new king and chose to revoke the already established Constitution.
Under Ferdinand VII’s regime, the Spanish Inquisition was re-instituted and gave himself absolute power. Similar to what the French revolutionaries did, he put Spain through a period of reign of terror. Goya was again had little option but to pledge allegiance to the king. To demonstrate this, he painted The Second of May and The Third of May both of which cited the 1808 event.
In the Second of May, Goya depicted the brutal killings in Madrid, particularly in the middle of Puerta del Sol. The citizens held an unrest against the French army and attacked them which led to a brutal battle. The second painting depicted the execution of Principe Pio on a hill adjacent to Madrid. Goya elaborately painted those two using vividly dark color schemes and freer brushstrokes. This is what art experts say that Goya transformed from being a lighthearted painter into a dark and pessimistic one.
Goya documented the Peninsular War as it happened. It led him to produce 85 prints titled The Disasters of War which he began working on from 1810 to 1820. All of these prints shared one thing in common: the depiction of atrocities of war and travesties as the citizens resisted against France’s invasion. Most of the etchings evoked powerful emotions that made them dangerous to be published for public viewing at the time. Therefore, The Disasters of War had only been published after Goya’s death.
The turmoil brought upon by Ferdinand VII’s absolute reign over Spain earned Goya no significant commissions. He opted to isolate himself from such a kind of association with the monarchs again and retreated to Madrid. However, this made him available to accept private commissions and for himself, too.
Around the early 1820’s, he worked on a series of fresco paintings at the Deaf Man’s House in a Spanish countryside. He entitled the work as Black Paintings which depicted ominous and dark scenes of his era. He included witches, prisoners, and lunatics as characters of this particular series.
Goya’s subject matter and tone became even darker which biographers believe was due to his mental breakdown. It is thought that he may have been developing this mental illness soon after France took over Spain. Plus, it couldn’t help that he was suffering from deafness, too. The symptoms of his illness such as ringing noise in the ear and head, deafness, and occurrence of imbalance showed resemblance to Meniere’s disease. Paranoia and dementia are also other reasons to his mental breakdown according to his postmortem assessment results.
In one of the relapse episodes of his illness, he almost died. It brought him trauma and decided to continue painting the Black series on the walls of his house instead on canvas. Goya had then moved to Bordeaux, France where he remained for the rest of his life. He died in April 16, 1828, at the age of 82.