Francisco Goya - Biography and Legacy
Spanish Painter and Printmaker
Biography of Francisco Goya
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes was born in Fuendetodos, Spain, to a lower-middle-class family. The fourth of six children, he spent the majority of his childhood in Zaragoza, a nearby city where his family was originally from. He attended a local public school, where he met his lifelong friend Martin Zapater; their letters provide one of the few direct sources of information about Goya's early years in Madrid.
At age 14, he began his artistic studies under painter Jose Luzan, which lasted for four years. He later moved to Madrid to study under Anton Raphael Mengs, a German artist who worked as court painter for the Spanish royal family. Goya's time with Mengs was largely unsuccessful (it is thought that the two men did not get along well), and his submissions to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando were rejected in both 1763 and 1766.
Goya's career first took shape after his relocation to Italy around 1770, though details about his activities there are murky. In 1771 he won second place in a painting competition held in Parma with his Sacrifice to Pan. He returned that year to Saragossa, where he began his studies under Francisco Bayeu, who became a close friend. Goya married Bayeu's sister, Josefa, with whom he had several children, though only one son, Javier, survived to adulthood. Goya once said that his son was so beautiful, people on the street in Madrid would stop to look at him, and he was an intensely proud father. When his son fell ill, Goya wrote that he "stopped living for that whole period."
Around 1774, Goya was commissioned to produce a series of cartoons for the Royal Tapestry factory at Santa Barbara. These paintings depict scenes from contemporary Spanish life in a lighthearted and light-toned Rococo manner; the resulting tapestries were installed in two royal palaces. Goya leveraged this experience to grow his connections within the Spanish court. At the same time he also began to work on a set of etchings after paintings by Velázquez in the royal collection. Goya would become a master of printmaking, which came to serve as the primary means by which he expressed his most personal feelings about the social and political events of his day.
Goya began his career as court painter in 1786, under Charles III. Later, he established himself as a favorite of Charles IV, becoming First Court Painter to the king in 1799, the highest position for an artist in the royal household. He would serve in this capacity until the Napoleonic invasion of 1808, though he continued to gain commissions from the new regime after pledging his allegiance to the Bonapartists.
During the height of his affiliation with the Spanish court, Goya befriended the influential Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who commissioned other works from the artist for his private collection, including the notorious Nude Maja (c. 1797-1800). This painting led to widespread speculation about the sitter's true identity, sparking rumors of Godoy's illicit affairs with two separate women and his eventual questioning by the Spanish Inquisition.
Goya's burgeoning career was briefly interrupted in 1792 when an undiagnosed illness left him permanently deaf. Although he continued to work for the Spanish royal family, his handicap led him to distance himself from public life as he grew increasingly embittered and melancholy. It was around this time that Goya began working on Los Caprichos, a series of 80 etchings with aquatint that was published in 1799. The prints present an indictment of many aspects of contemporary Spain.
Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808 and the subsequent Peninsular War (lasting until 1814) gave Goya ample opportunity to observe and critique society. The war inspired his paintings The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808, as well as his portfolio of etchings titled The Disasters of War. In the words of author Evan S. Connell, these works represent "the prodigious flowering of rage" that Goya felt in the face of so much violence and horror.
Following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814, Goya withdrew completely from public life; little is known about his later years. He moved to a farmhouse on the outskirts of Madrid, La Quinta del Sordo (The House of the Deaf Man), where by 1821 he completed 14 so-called Black Paintings, which were painted directly onto the house's plaster walls. Goya moved to Bordeaux in 1824 to escape the oppressive and autocratic regime of Ferdinand VII. The artist spent the rest of his life in exile in France with his maid and companion, Leocadia Weiss (his wife Josefa had died in 1812), and her daughter until his death in 1828.
The Legacy of Francisco Goya
Goya's oeuvre represents a unique marriage of tradition and modernity. As an Old Master, he honored the works of his predecessors like Velázquez and Rembrandt, working in a traditional manner as seen in his many court portraits. At the same time, his bold departure from the artistic conventions of his day earns him a place as one of the first Modern Western painters. For instance, his use of social satire finds its legacy in the works of James Ensor, who likewise pilloried the duped masses and corrupt leaders of his day, while the qualities of shock and horror - seen in his more dark or violent works - find a thread in contemporary art's concern for the abject and psychologically disturbed, from Damien Hirst to Paul McCarthy.
Goya's use of broad, visible brushstrokes paved the way for Impressionism's spontaneous style, as did the quintessentially Spanish subject matter of his art. Édouard Manet's Olympia was influenced by Goya's Nude Maja, and was equally bold, if not bolder, in its radical reinvention of the classical nude as a modern-day prostitute. Meanwhile his fragmentary painting of The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, directly references Goya's The Third of May, 1808 in both its expression of moral outrage and its formal composition, though Manet's sympathies lay on the side of the Mexican executioners, not the murdered Emperor.
Goya's politically engaged, highly subjective, and imaginative art presented a significant step towards modernism. In his prints especially, Goya critiqued the events of his day including war, corruption, social ills, and ingrained superstitions. This would later inspire artists like his fellow Spaniard Picasso, whose seminal Guernica also raged against contemporary injustices, in this case the Fascist bombing of a Spanish village in WWII.
Goya's far-reaching legacy extends to Surrealism, as artists looked to Goya's etchings and Black Paintings for their dark and dreamlike subject matter. Salvador Dalí created his own version of the Caprichos in 1973, and more recently, in 2014, the contemporary artist Emily Lombardo did likewise, reimagining the Caprichos in the framework of 21st-century life. Both Dalí's Surrealist interpretation and Lombardo's queer feminist one signal the enduring, universal, and ultimately malleable significance of Goya's prints. The British twins Jake and Dinos Chapman also looked to Goya for inspiration, most notably in their disturbingly grotesque sculptures derived from The Disasters of War.