Goya’s early paintings range from aristocratic portraiture to late baroque subject pictures influenced by a visit to Italy and contact with the Neapolitan artist Corrado Giaquinto (1703–66). His most successful early project was a series of cartoons for the royal tapestry factory, commissioned through the Giaquinto follower Francisco Bayeu (1734–95). These scenes of country life are still in the hedonistic world of Watteau and his followers and the Venetian Rococo, for example The Parasol. Goya’s early portraits also owe much to Venice and it was the esteem he enjoyed in this field that led to his appointment as court painter on the eve of the French Revolution. After an illness, Goya’s view of life darkened and he issued his first great series of prints Los Caprichos, which bitingly criticized the existing social order. Goya continued his successful portrait practice with paintings of royalty, high society and government officials. His royal portraits have been considered unflattering, but they can also be seen as refreshingly honest and a tribute to the new meritocratic ideas spreading from France. His powerful and sexually-charged portraits of the Duchess of Alba, supposedly Goya’s mistress, and of the Marquesa de Santa Cruz, are upstaged (though not by much) by his Naked Maya and Clothed Maja, both painted for the royal favorite Manuel Godoy.
After the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808, the ensuing violence was condemned by Goya in a second series of prints, The Disasters of War, inspired by an earlier seventeenth-century series by the French artist Jacques Callot (1592–1635). Spanish resistance to Napoleon was also commemorated by two large paintings, The Second of May andThe Third of May in which the rebels attack the Mamelukes of the French imperial guard and are then shot by firing squad. The Third of May famously inspired Manet’s later Execution of the Emperor Maximillian of Mexico. In 1819, traumatized by another serious illness, Goya executed his series of so-called Black Paintings, which in their nightmarish fantasy anticipate the work of French symbolists like Redon and even the Dada and Surrealism of Max Ernst. The attribution of these paintings, of which the most famous is The Colossus, has recently been called into question even though they have long been revered as among Goya’s greatest masterpieces. In 1824 Goya emigrated to Bordeaux where he lived until his death.
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Books on Francisco de Goya
Stephanie L. Stepanek, Frederick Ilchman and Janis A. Tomlinson, Goya: Order & Disorder, exh. cat., Boston, 2014.
Robert Hughes, Goya, New York, 2003.
José Luis Morales y Marín, Goya: a Catalogue of his Paintings, Zaragoza, 1997.
Conde de la Viñaza, Goya: su tiempo, su vida, sus obras, Madrid, 1887.