PRINT January 2001



Anybody lucky enough to have seen Truth and Fantasy, the 1994 traveling exhibition of Goya’s small paintings, will never forget this Gulliverian voyage to the artist’s terrifyingly diminutive planet, where the plenitude of human folly, from rape and shipwreck to witchcraft and Catholic piety, was grotesquely mirrored in pictures that could be held in one hand. Now, Goya’s teeming microcosmos will become even smaller and perhaps still stranger when we view an anthology of one hundred of his drawings dating from the 1790s, the decade of the Caprichos, until his death in 1828. Curated by Goya scholar Juliet Wilson-Bareau, “Goya: Drawings from His Private Albums” (Hayward Gallery, London, Feb. 22-May 13) brings together again pages from eight different albums whose contents had been scattered, ending up in dozens of great museums and private collections on both sides of the Atlantic.

These rapid vignettes offer an awesomely vast universe that encompasses an infinity of observations about all manner of man and myth. One can find, in the earliest of the albums, the duchess of Alba herself, playing mother to Maria de la Luz, the little black girl she had adopted, or a pair of awkwardly naked women on a bed, a preview of the painted Majas. And glimpses of fashionably vain couples or lowlife drunken rows lead into the follies recorded in the Caprichos. But the level of the brutal and the grotesque keeps dropping in these private diaries to unbearable depths. There are cripples and Jews victimized by the Inquisition, an aged procuress, a blind worker, ugly revelers, a Cain and Abel who could be the last survivors of the apocalypse, a mother showing her deformed child to two women, and a freak-show maternity of a bearded woman nursing her baby (a bizarre homage to Ribera’s painting of the same subject). And when Goya left Spain for France in 1824, he would see only more of the same. In Bordeaux, he could jot down such a heartbreaking street fact as an amputee beggar wheeling himself about in a makeshift carriage or, in Paris, a shriveled old woman in a wagon drawn by a harnessed dog. There is no end to what Goya saw and to what he imagined, and no boundary between nightmare and reality. With these one hundred drawings alone, Goya, single-handed, can black out the Age of Enlightenment and make us want to resign from the human race.

Robert Rosenblum is a contributing editor of Artforum.