1795, Self-Portrait, Oil on canvas
1815, Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas
This masterful retrospective of the works of Spanish artist, Francisco Goya (1746-1828) is an exhibition of 170 works of art by a great master of the 19th century. 71 of the works belong to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston collection, and the others are on loan from museums and collections around the globe. The curious query as to how Boston managed to assemble such a huge group of his works was the result of the efforts of a curator at the Prado Museum, Manuela Mena de Marques. She did an internship at the MFAB during her early years and was very much indebted to the institution for its masterful training. The current curators of prints and drawings and European painting, Stephanie Stepanek and Frederick Ilchman, chose to organize the show by themes rather than a historic chronology. The various rooms in the Gund Gallery are divided such that oils on canvas as well as works on paper are juxtaposed to examine the many passions of the artist: his customers and patrons, his favorite pastimes of bull fights and hunting, and his contemporary conflicts with the dynastic struggles, war and bloodshed in his country.
Many critics have noted that Goya ranks in the top of the art world with the likes of Durer, Rembrandt and Picasso because of his range and versatility of working as a painter, draftsman and a print maker. Born in the small town of Fuendetodos in 1746, he was trained as a painter and left for study in Italy in 1769. He married Josefa Bayeu in 1773, the daughter of one of his teachers, and they had 7 children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. By 1775 he was hired by the first of the four monarchs who would request his service to make reproductions of the work of the prior titan of Spanish painting in the royal collection, Diego Velazquez. He was then admitted to the Royal Academy of Art and appointed as the official artist of King Charles III in 1786. This show contains many of his official court portraits as well as his private commissions for friends of the aristocracy.
Two of my favorites are on loan from New York: the magnificent Duchess of Alba of 1797 from the Hispanic Society in New York and the childhood portrait of Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga of 1787 with his pet birds and cats from the Metropolitan Museum. Each embraces Goya’s unique rendering of detail along with his sense of humor and human insight. The Duchess in her aristocratic costume is pointing to the name of the artist on the ground as if to say only Goya captures my essence. The young boy in a bright red jumpsuit and pointed shoes, which must have been dreadfully uncomfortable, is teasing the cats by holding a pet magpie on a string- a challenging feat for a toddler, no doubt.
Duchess of Alba, 1797, oil on canvas
Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, 1788
The public life of this artist was a busy one but we know from official records that his productive gaiety was seriously interrupted in 1792 when Goya became almost totally deaf. From then on we see an almost bifurcated trajectory of work that embraced both his public life of civility and his private life of isolated torment. Particularly in his series of etchings, both Los Caprichos and Los Disastros de la Guerra, we see a new preoccupation with nightmares, torment, insanity and vicious political commentary on both church and state affairs. With the French occupancy of Spain when Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the throne, there was massive bloodshed and turmoil. Goya managed to keep his job in the court, focusing on his works on paper until his self- imposed exile to Bordeaux, France in 1824.
I Saw It. Disasters of War, Etching, 1810-11.
Pedro Romero Killing a Bull, Etching, 1815-15.
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Etching, 1791-99
While we do not usually remember Goya for his religious works, there are a few loans that have never crossed the Atlantic Ocean that deserve a close look to see how astute he was in his reverence for the Christian Church. The Last Communion of Saint Joseph comes from the holy order of the Padres Escolapos in Madrid that runs a series of schools for poor children. Perhaps knowing that his own mortality was at stake, Goya did a last self-portrait the following year where we see him in the arms of his attending physician who enabled Goya to recover for another eight years of life.
This show is both a thrill and a gargantuan effort that will not be replicated in our lifetime. It takes time and endurance to observe all the details of the works. It is one of the great gifts of this holiday season for those in the Boston area. You can see the depth and range of this astute observer of the human condition who was one of the last old masters as well as one of the first truly modernist painters. Both his joyful works and his serious critiques provide food for thought and enjoyment for all ages.
Straw Mannequin, 1791-2, Oil on canvas
The Parasol, 1777, Oil on canvas
Seated Giant, 1818, Aquatint
Witches in the Air, 1797-8, Oil on canvas
Catalogue of the Exhibition: Goya: Order and Disorder, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2014.
*We know that this exhibition is over, but we love Sharon’s reviews. Enjoy the show through her eyes.