Goya: Images from the Dark Side

The Museum of Fine Art in Boston is currently having a much-praised Francisco Goya retrospective titled:  “Goya:  Order and Disorder.”  I need to get to Boston.  I’m a Goya fan.

Time magazine’s art critic Richard Lacayo (27 Oct 2014) asks the question:

Why is Goya so fascinating?

Then proceeds to answer it:

The late Robert Hughes, his best English-language biographer, got to the point when he wrote that Goya was both “the last Old Master” and the “the first Modernist.”  By his 30s, Goya possessed the full toolbox of Old Master capabilities. . . .  But Goya’s bleak imagination went places they would never dream of going, places that hold a key to the wars and atrocities of our own time.  All those leering madmen, giants, the lumpen humans with their stupidity, superstition and cruelty–monsters and idiots infest Goya’s world.  We know all about them from our own.

Perhaps the bleakest of Goya’s images are on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.  They are aptly called the Black Paintings.  I’ve been to the Prado twice, both time to admire these works by Goya.

In 1793, a mysterious illness left him completely deaf.  In the isolation of the years that followed, he produced most of the works that gave us “our” Goya, the scabrous observer of hopeless humanity, the man who shows us a world where witches gather, bulls fly and Satan presides as a giant he-goat.  [His paintings and] etching are a peerless survey of hypocrisy, vanity and greed.

Goya's "Why?  Disasters of War 32" (1811-12)

Goya’s “Why? Disasters of War 32” (1811-12)

These works were Goya’s reaction to a terrible war and the awful rule of the Spanish monarch Ferdinand VII.  Ten years after the king came to power, an exasperated Goya left Spain and moved to France, where in died in 1828.

Yet even in the isolation of his French years, Goya produced some of his most important work like the painting Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta.  In this oeuvre, he shows himself helpless during another of near fatal illnesses, propped up by the doctor who ministers to him.  The format is very much like a traditional pieta with Goya replacing Christ, and Dr. Arrieta substituting for Mary.

Goya's "Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta" (circa 1820)

Goya’s “Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta” (circa 1820)

As Lacayo asks:  “Who else could make a painting like this–so wise, so tender, so tough?”

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