Published On: February 1, 2012

Spanish Master Goya at MON

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By Marc Breyer

Tourists and residents of Curitiba have the opportunity to see a unique exhibition currently at MON (Museu Oscar Niemeyer): “Os Caprichos de Goya”. On my viewing of the exhibit, I found it was worth sharing the exhibition room with other visitors. Like me, some of them knew exactly what they were going to find, but certainly they must have had the same feeling I did, which is so difficult to put in words — the feeling one has before the works of a great master.

Los Caprichos, a set of etchings and aquatint prints created by Spanish artist Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes between 1797 and 1799, was first published as an album in 1799. The prints represent a tour-de-force critique of Spanish society in the 18th century and of human society as a whole. Elements such as superstition, social values, customs and especially the aristocracy of that time are the main target of an artist who used a simple and objective style to satirize the world around him.

The works by Goya in Los Caprichos certainly influenced the modernist movement that was to come about a century later. And his etching shown above, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,”which has been published in many art books and encyclopedias, is considered to have played a particular role in influencing later painters.

The exhibition, totaling 80 pieces, has already been on display in Belo Horizionte, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Brasília. After the show in Curitiba, it will return to its original home, the Instituto Cervantes de Madrid, in Spain.

Francisco de Goya (1746 – 1828)

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was born on March 30, 1746 in the village of Fuendetodos, west of Spain. When he was 14 years old, he and his family moved to Saragoza, capital of the region of Aragon. It was then that young Francisco, son of an artisan, started to work as an apprentice to artist José Luzán, by that time a successful artist. One of Luzán’s jobs was to perform tasks as a censor, covering religious nude paintings with garment. Still in Saragoza, Goya met artist Francisco Bayeu, whose growing popularity took him to the court in Madrid as an assistant in his studio.

At that time, Madrid attracted artists from other points of Europe, so in that competitive environment Goya made many frustrated attempts to be accepted as a member of the then recently inaugurated Academy of Fine Arts. It was only after getting a prize in Italy and working with painting cards in oil for rug manufacturing that he was invited to join the Academy. By this time, he had married Josefa, Mr. Bayeu’s sister. One year later, Goya painted his first portrait of Spanish nobility: the duchess of Osuña. After the coronation of Carlos IV in 1789, Goya managed to achieve his standing as a painter for the king’s chamber, a promotion that allowed him to add a “de” to his name.

At the end of 1792, Goya was faced with a traumatic change: he was suffering from a mysterious disease, probably some kind of poisoning from the excessive use of white paint. This health problem caused an acute nervous disturbance, temporary paralysis, partial blindness and permanent deafness. From then on, Goya’s art changed, developing an introspection, which produced images revealing the artist’s deeply inner views, even extending to morbidity. However, despite these artistic changes, his fame and his contact with the aristocracy increased, as he counted on patrons and friends in high society for support. One of his patrons was the Duchess of Alba, a beautiful, intelligent and powerful woman. His relationship with the Duchess provoked intrigue and gossip, and one of the popular legends of art history says that she was the model for his famous paintings “The Nude Maja” and “The Clothed Maja”.

In 1808, a popular movement overthrew Carlos IV and put his son Fernando VII in his place. Fernando VII was an ally of the French, who soon replaced him with his brother José, provoking a bloody civil war in Spain. Goya portrayed the terrible events and atrocities he witnessed in paintings and engravings. In 1811 Fernando was restored to the throne and began a period of repression: Theaters and universities were closed, the press was censored and the terrible Inquisition was re-established. In 1815 Goya left his position as a painter of the king, but received a pension, which allowed him to live a comfortable life until the end of his days.

Goya’s last works show his dedication to what we know as his “dark paintings”, in which he explores dramatic, somber and strong images. By that time he was seen by his friends as an old, deaf and feeble man. Yet, he felt strong enough to continue producing his artworks, by then in Bordeaux, where he had moved in order to avoid Spanish cultural repression. On April 16, 1828, Goya died in Bordeaux after a heart attack. His remains were taken back to Spain in 1900, and are buried in San Isidro cemetery, Madrid.

Goya’s Work:

  • Goya is considered by many art experts to be the best artist from the period between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries;

  • His first works were destined mainly for drawings used in rug production, and his position as painter of the royal chamber was marked by the painting of portraits. After coming down with a terrible infirmity he started to investigate pain and suffering, painting the dark and sinister sides of humanity;

  • His art is also based on a search for a virtuous approach to paints and movement, instead of a careful finishing with controlled lines. “My brush cannot see more than I can”, he once said;

  • Goya made over 300 etchings and engravings in series that include Los Caprichos (1799), Disasters of War (1810), Tauromaquia (1815) and Proverbs (1816);

  • Movement, bright colors and facial expressions that show pain and agony are some of his principal artistic straits.

Exhibition Information:

The Oscar Niemeyer Museum is located at Rua Marechal Hermes, 999, in Centro Cívico, and it is open from 10am to 6pm. Admission is R$4 or R$2 for students and children. On the first Sunday of the month, admission is free.

The Goya exhibition opened on January 26 and will remain until April 24.

This article was written in English by Marc Breyer, a German-Brazilian artist, writer, translator, and teacher of English in Curitiba. He may be contacted at:

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