PRINT October 2021



Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Milagro de San Antonio de Padua (Miracle of Saint Anthony of Padua), 1797, oil on canvas, 10 1⁄4 × 14 1⁄2".

THE FIRST WORK firmly attributed to Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) is a reliquary cabinet, today lost, painted in Zaragoza, Spain, in the late-Baroque style of his teacher José Luzán Martínez. During his final years in Bordeaux, he drew in crayon, developed an innovative technique for miniatures, and exploited the potential of lithography. Between this alpha and that omega lies Goya, who defies categorization by period (his work is hardly Neoclassical, but it’s not Romantic either) or by genre; any attempt to neatly package his work inevitably leads to contradictions. Encompassing more than 150 oil paintings, etchings, lithographs, and drawings in chalk, pencil, wash, and pen and ink, “Goya,” a major exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, elucidates the artist’s complexity, which is more concisely illustrated by works on view that exemplify the scope of his production during a single year: 1798.

The year began auspiciously enough, as the Spanish king Carlos IV turned to a group of progressive statesmen to address the country’s growing economic crisis.Some months before, Goya had painted one of them, the poet turned jurist Juan Meléndez Valdés; in March 1798, he painted a full-length portrait of Meléndez’s mentor, the recently appointed minister Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos. This brief liberal interval at court probably inspired the artist to complete “Los caprichos,” ca. 1797–99, a series of eighty etched fantasies and commentaries on contemporary society. In late June, he invoiced the duke and duchess of Osuna for six small paintings on “subjects of witches” (three of them hang in this exhibition); he presumably finished these just as he was beginning his monumental project of frescoing the interior of the church of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid, represented here by four rarely seen sketches of angels, witnesses, and the central scene of Saint Anthony of Padua resurrecting from the grave a man his father was accused of murdering. That summer, Goya also found time to exhibit his portrait (not included in the Beyeler show) of the astute and haughty collector and court gilder Andrés del Peral at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid.

Francisco Goya y Lucientes, María Amalia de Aguirre y Acedo, marquesa de Montehermoso (María Amalia de Aguirre y Acedo, Marchioness of Montehermoso), 1810, oil on canvas, 667⁄8 × 40 1⁄2".

Portraitist of monarchs and aristocrats, of intellectuals, actresses, and artists, Goya witnessed the changing regimes of a revolutionary era. He immortalized old-regime aristocrats and their Bourbon kings, Carlos III and his successor Carlos IV, but subsequently painted supporters of Joseph Bonaparte, appointed king of Spain in 1808 by his brother Napoléon, who persuaded Carlos IV to abdicate. Among Goya’s sitters was the daughter of a courtier to Joseph, the delicate, young marchioness of Montehermoso, who stands before a landscape dressed in a white Empire dress and holding a stem of lilies; her mother, far less innocent, was reputedly the king’s lover.

In 1793, Goya, by then an established academician and court painter for Carlos IV, began to sketch subjects inspired by contemporary life. By January 1794, he had painted—for the first time without a commission—twelve small scenes recorded as depicting “national pastimes.” From this point forward, he never stopped experimenting. In drawings, etchings, and oils, he laid bare the emotions of men, women, and children threatened by nature, by their own superstitions or vanity, or by the cruelty of mankind. These works, created even as he fulfilled commissions for portraits and altarpieces, augured the imagery of two series of etchings: “Los desastres de la guerra” (The Disasters of War), ca. 1810–14, a response to the Spanish war against Napoléon and its aftermath, and Los disparates, ca.1816–19, whose title is best translated as “Irrationalities.” In both series, Goya envisions nightmares, from the atrocious to the uncanny, that even today challenge and perplex viewers. Knowing his market, Goya never published them during his lifetime.

Goya gave visual form to saints and bandits, to the miraculous and the mundane.

Curated by Martin Schwander and developed by Isabela Mora and Sam Keller in cooperation with Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, “Goya” is accompanied by an extensive catalogue featuring contributions by leading scholars as well as an essay by Colm Tóibín. On view from October 10 to January 23, 2022, the exhibition offers an opportunity to reassess our understanding of the artist, which we can take full advantage of only if we resist the temptation to assume that any one aspect of his production—as portraitist, as commentator, as recorder, as visionary—represents the “real” Goya. Driven by his creative intelligence (in Goya’s own word, his invención), working with or without patrons through prosperity and famine, he gave visual form to saints and bandits, to the miraculous and the mundane. Rather than impose our politics or preferences on his oeuvre, we should embrace its full breadth. Goya once declared that “there are no rules in painting”; this exhibition reminds us that there are no rules for Goya.

Janis Tomlinson is the author of seven books on Goya and on Spanish painting, which have been translated into six languages. Her biography Goya: A Portrait of the Artist was published by Princeton University Press in 2021; a Spanish edition is forthcoming.