“First be a magnificent artist and then you can do whatever, but the art must be first.”
Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828)
Considered the most important Spanish artist of late 18th and early 19th centuries, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was born to a modest family in Fuendetodos, Zaragoza, on 30 March 1746. He died in exile in France in 1828.
Extremely popular in his lifetime Goya was a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker. Throughout his long career, he was a commentator and chronicler of his era. He began his training from the age 14 under José Luzán y Martinez. later moving to Madrid to study classic art with Anton Raphael Mengs. He submitted a piece to a competition held by the Academy of Fine Arts at Parma. Though he failed to win the competition his work was warmly greeted by the judges.
In 1780s, Goya began to work for Spanish royal court, painting portraits of the Spanish aristocracy and Rococo style tapestry cartoons designed for the royal palace. In addition to his commissioned portraits of the nobility, he created works that criticized the social and political problems of his era.
Goya was a quiet and private man and while there are letters that survive, little is known about his thoughts. He suffered a severe and undiagnosed illness in 1793 which left him completely deaf. After 1793 his work became progressively darker and more pessimistic. Politics and history darkened his imagination His later easel and mural paintings, prints and drawings reflected a bleak outlook on personal, social and political levels, and contrast with his social climbing. He was appointed Director of the Royal Academy in 1795, the year Manuel Godoy made an unfavorable treaty with France. In 1799 Goya became Primer Pintor de Cámara, the then-highest rank for a Spanish court painter. In the late 1790s, commissioned by Godoy, he completed his La maja desnuda, a remarkably daring nude for the time and clearly indebted to Diego Velázquez. He may have been part of the royal establishment, but he did not ignore the plight of the Spanish people in his work. Turning to etchings, Goya created a series of images called “Los Caprichos” in 1799, which has been viewed his commentary on political and social events. The 80 prints explored the corruption, greed, and repression that was rampant in the country.
In 1807 Napoleon led the French army into Spain. Goya remained in Madrid during the Peninsular War, which seems to have affected him deeply. Although he did not vocalise his thoughts in public, they can be inferred from his “Disasters of War” series of prints (although published 35 years after his death) and his 1814 paintings The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808. Other works from his mid-period include the “Caprichos” and Los Disparates etching series, and a wide variety of paintings concerned with insanity, mental asylums, witches, fantastical creatures and religious and political corruption, all of which suggest that he feared for both his country’s fate and his own mental and physical health. His late period culminates with the “Black Paintings” of 1819–1823, applied on oil on the plaster walls of his house the “Quinta del Sordo” (house of the deaf man) where, disillusioned by political and social developments in Spain, he lived in near isolation. Goya eventually abandoned Spain in 1824 to retire to the French city of Bordeaux, accompanied by his much younger maid and companion, Leocadia Weiss, who may or may not have been his lover. There he completed his “La Tauromaquia” series and a number of other, major, canvases. Following a stroke which left him paralyzed on his right side, and suffering failing eyesight and poor access to painting materials, he died and was buried on 16 April 1828 aged 82. His body was later re-interred in Spain.