Goya: the sad genius

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By Chandana Ranaweera 

During the Renaissance Period between the 14th and 17th century, a new art movement was born in Italy and spread to other neighbouring countries as well. Spain was one of such countries that welcomed the changes the Renaissance brought and created a lot of leading artists. Francisco Goya is a popular Spanish artist who made a name for himself during the 17th century. He is widely considered as a talented artist who created new trails in the course of art in Spain during the Renaissance.

Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes was born on 30 March 1746 in Aragon, Spain. He hailed from a family of farmers but his interests laid in Arts since an early age. He first studied Arts from Jose Luzan – a renowned Spanish Baroque painter based in Zaragoza. He then moved to Madrid to further study the subject with Anton Raphael Mengs – a German painter who was active in Madrid at the time. He then joined an organisation that organised bullfights and went to the motherland of the Renaissance – Italy – to further study Art.  

In 1771, he returned to Madrid and married Josefa Bayeu – the sister of the artist Francisco Bayeu under whom he studied Art for a short period of time when he was in Madrid. His married life wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, given that he had to bare the pain of the series of miscarriages his wife had to endure. The couple however raised one son who survived into adulthood. 

Goya opened an art gallery in Madrid and quickly rose in to fame. His style and the quality of painting were adored by the critics and viewers, and soon he was invited to paint for the royalty. He painted a number of churches and palaces in and around Madrid. He painted 30-odd print worthy landscape paintings for a royal textile factory in Santa Barbara and earned quite the sum of money through that. He spent the earning on buying a carriage to make his travels much easier. 

By 1782, Goya was a reputed portrait painter in Spain. He was the go-to painter for the royalty and the elite to get portraits done. He made a number of torso sculptures as well as portraitures of royals and the elites of Spain. One such popular painting is the painting of the’ ‘Charles IV of Spain and His Family’, now on display at Prado Gallery in Madrid. 

Another famous painting of Goya is on display at the National Art Gallery in London. Titled, ‘Portrait of Dona Isabel de Porcel’ this portraiture depicts Isabel Lobo Velasco de Porcel – the second wife of Antonio Porcel – in oil on canvas. The, ‘Portrait of the Duchess of Alba’ is another popular painting by Goya. He had painted the Duchess of Alba quite a few times in his life and according to some biographies, it was due to an illicit love affair between the two. 

The two paintings ‘The Naked Maja’, and ‘The Clothed Maja’ are also considered as one of the best works of Goya. These two oil-on-canvas paintings depict a lady in nude and in clothes. Goya first painted the naked one and followed it up by the clothed painting to make a ‘pendant painting’ – two works of art showed as a pair.     

Goya was also influenced by the life of the Spanish people and their special festivals. He often painted the Spanish culture and also loved to paint bullfighting – one of his favourites sports. According to critics Goya’s paintings of bullfighting are so realistic, filled with detail, and depict the gruesomeness of a bullfight masterfully. 

Goya lived in a time when there was a lot of political turmoil which resulted in a lot of internal and international wars. This also influenced Goya’s art evident by a few paintings on plates he had done depicting the dark side of wars; the pain, the sorrow, the melancholy, and all the killings. Goya’s two paintings titled, ‘The Second of May 1808’, and ‘The Third of May 1808’ are two fine examples of Goya’s successful attempt at depicting the horrors of war. 

The dusk years of Goya was filled with troubles, sadness, and sorrow mainly due to untimely deaths of his children except for one son. Following the deaths of his children, his wife too passed away and not so long after Goya became deaf due to an unknown illness. Despite the riches he was gathering, courtesy his successful art career, the personal life of Goya was becoming gloomier by the day and this was reflected in his art as well. He leant towards dark and dull colours and often painted pieces that depicted sadness and gruesomeness. People even started referring to his house as, ‘the house of the deaf man’. 

This sad but talented artist breathed his last on 16 April 1828.    

 (Translated by Sanuj Hathurusinghe)