Francisco Goya was an enigmatic character who succeeded in becoming a Court painter and a People’s painter. He is regarded as the most significant artist of Spain throughout the late eighteenth century and throughout the early nineteenth century. He had a very long artistic career and his work reflected his mood varying from pessimistic discovery to bright and light hearted reflected in his drawings, etchings, paintings and frescoes. Impressionism, Romanticism, Surrealism and Expressionism were later influenced by this artist who was by all accounts ahead of his time.
Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes was born in Fuendetodos, later moving to Saragossa with his parents and aged fourteen entered into an apprenticeship with the painter Jose Luzan. Living in enlightened times Goya was able to gain his artistic maturity during the reign of the sympathetic monarch Charles III. He made two attempts to study at the Spanish Royal Academy but was rejected on two occasions. He was trained during his early years in Rococco and Baroque styles which is evident in early works. Goya joined the studio of Brothers Ramon and Francisco Bayeu y Subias where he fell in love and married the brothers’ sister Josefa.
Visiting Italy, Goya won a 2nd prize in a painting competition in Parma and was influenced by Neo Classicism and Classicism. When he returned to Spain, he produced some remarkable frescoes and religious works continuing his studies with Francesco Bayeu.
Francisco Goya’s marriage connections led to access to the Spanish Court where he initially designed around 42 patterns for the Royal Tapestry Workshop. This period also saw him appointed to the Academy of San Fernando. From this introduction, Goya formed a relationship with the Spanish Court for his lifetime spanning four monarchies. Notable designs for the tapestry work included “The Blind Guitarist” which was frustratingly complex for the weavers so had to be simplified. Goya however retained the original in an etching.
Influenced by Velazquez, Goya began to paint commissions for Royal favourites which expanded his popularity through the reign of two monarchs (Carlos III and Carlos IV). With an ever growing circle of patrons, Goya incorporated different styles into his work usually with Rococco dominating.
In particular, “Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter” shows Goya’s skill at capturing the essence of the sitters with a masterly painting technique. He often incorporated symbolism in his work which often alluded to the politics of the day such as Spain’s military struggle with France.
In 1792 Goya lost his hearing and became deaf, possibly because of the lead contained in the pigments he used. This hearing loss caused Goya to withdraw for five years to lead an introspective life. His illness and the changing times, in ways, contributed to the maturity of his later works.
Between 1793 and 1810 Goya produced a series of 11 small works painted on tin called “Fantasy and Invention” and scandalised Spanish society with his best known work “La Maja Desnuda” and also paints“”La Maja Vestida” (The Nude Maja and Clothed Maja).
Los Caprichos” was a set of published prints of some 80 aquatints showing Goya’s satirical wit in a critique of Spanish society. Around the time of “Los Caprichos” Goya was appointed officially as Spanish Royal Painter and continued with portraits of the King and Queen plus other nobility.
The early 1800’s saw the production of works depicting scenes from the Peninsula War before Goya’s wife died in 1812. The ascension of King Ferdinand VII to the throne was not without issues as relations between the new King and the painter are not good. By 1814 Goya was living with his cousin Rosario Weiss. Here he fell in love with her daughter Dona Leocadia. The ensuing years saw Goya suffering another serious illness.
When he recovered from illness, Goya bought a house near Manzanares, outside Madrid. His works reflected the dark, powerful, world of his subconscious and were precursors to Surrealism and Expressionism. A set of paintings known as “Black Paintings” were crafted.
Francisco Goya eventually left Spain and set off for Paris and Bordeaux eventually settling in Bordeaux. He spent his time working on new portrait commissions and used bull fighting as his subject for a series of paintings. His final painting was “The Milkmaid of Bordeaux”. He returned to Spain for a short time before his death in Bordeaux in 1828.