The life and career of Spanish master Francisco José de Goya y Luciente bridge the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, a time in Spain of wars, upheaval, inquisition and radical change.
Goya chronicled much of it in a mercurial style — from elegantly finessed to slashingly rough — that reflected the tenor of the times, and in many ways, anticipated and influenced the directions of such diverse future art movements as Realism, Expressionism, Surrealism and Modernism.
Goya painted portraits, landscapes, still life, historical scenes and genre scenes, but was known in particular for his depictions of war and conflict — ostensibly in a manner of historical record, but the assumption is (and I think it’s pretty clear), that he was commenting on the misery, tragedy and madness of conflict in a manner that would not have been approved of by the established powers of the time.
He painted what is considered the first straightforward life-size female nude in Western art that did not have some religious, allegorical or mythological narrative to excuse it, The Naked Maja, and a companion painting of the same figure in the same pose, but dressed, as The Clothed Maja (images above, middle). In some ways, the bold position and confrontational stare in the latter is more provocative than the nude version. Both were confiscated from the patron at one point by the Spanish Inquisition.
At various times Goya painted genteel portraits and explosive, dramatic scenes of violence and despair. He was also a master draftsman and printmaker, depicting in one series Caprichos, or visual fantasies of social commentary on the follies of society (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, shown above, top), and in another The Disaster of War.
Late in his life, his health and mental state failing, he painted a mysterious series of darkly themed paintings on canvas and directly on the walls of the house in which he was living, that have come to be known at the “Black Paintings“. Most of the wall paintings were transferred to canvas, but with little relative success. These were never meant by Goya to be sold or displayed, but were a personal outpouring of his own grief or rage. The most famous of them is Saturn Devouring his Son (above, forth from bottom), which is assumed by many to be an allegory of civil war couched in narrative of myth.
There is currently an exhibition of Goya’s work at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Goya Order and Disorder, that is on view until January 19, 2015. There is a small preview on the museum’s site, but once again, as with the current exhibit of the work of illustrator Mac Conner in New York, the British newspaper The Guardian does a better job of previewing and promoting an American exhibition than the museum itself (images from the show, above top, down to the self-portrait of Goya painting).