Goya was the son of a Basque gilder and the undisputed leader of the Romantic art movement in Spain. Born 30 years before Constable, he lived for a long time and died only ten years before John Constable.
In 1773 he married Josefa Bayeu, sister of Saragossa artist Francisco Bayeu. The couple had many children, but only one, a son, Xavier, survived to adulthood. If Goya had died in his forties, he’d be remembered as a talented court painter (he became First Court Painter to Charles IV in 1799). However, he lived long and worked hard and over the course of his long career, Goya’s paintings, drawings, etchings, and frescoes moved from jolly and lighthearted to deeply pessimistic and searching.
Father of Romanticism
Although Goya was born long before John Constable and William Wordsworth and long before the principles of Romanticism were articulated, it is easy to see why he is called the father of Romanticism in Spain. Goya used darkness, luminous light and colour to portray emotion. Rather like Gainsborough, Goya bridged the gap between the previous age of Classicism and the new Romanticism that followed after his death.
The Forge (1812-15) see image four above shows Goya to be one of the first artists to study and paint labourers. He shows a deep understanding of the skilled coordination of movement the forge men’s activity involves. The value of humble workers was to pre-occupy the Romantic movement – but compare Goya’s careful study of these forge-workers with the lack of information in Constable’s depiction of country labourers and barge-men
Horrors of war
From 1808 to 1814 (the time of Napoleon’s occupation of Spain and the Spanish War of Independence), Goya remained as court painter but witnessed the horror of war, the brutality of which he depicted in some very disturbing paintings.
- The Disasters of War (1812-15) depicts scenes from the battlefield in the aftermath of the Napoleonic War. The prints showed such cruelty, they remained unpublished until 1863, long after Goya’s death.
- Third May 1808 (1814) depicts the crushing of the popular Madrid uprising and the execution of its defenders. Even today it is one of the starkest portrayals of war that has ever been painted – the horror of the execution of the defenceless men is inextricable from Goya’s rage at such inhumanity.Nightmare themes
Having no royal commissions during the tumultuous monarchy of Ferdinand VII, Goya became isolated from political and intellectual life in Madrid. A serious illness didn’t kill him but left him completely deaf. It was at this time that he started to work on nightmarish themes including images of witchcraft, bull fights, war, the Inquisition, sexual delight and sexual corruption. He became a master of fantasy and documentary for example his ‘black paintings’ which seemed to despair of human nature.
End of life in Bordeaux
Dissatisfied with political developments in Spain and at the age of 78, Goya retired to Bordeaux in 1824 under the guise of seeking medical advice. His final years were spent there and in Paris where he completed Colossus and experimented with lithography.
Colossus (1818-1825) is a terrifying depiction of humanity being dwarfed by forces beyond its control. In place of the stable artistic clarity that had characterised Classicism here is with unfettered imagination and of unreasoned intuition, emotion and feeling that is both chaotic and exciting.
Goya suffered a massive stroke and died at the age of 82.