Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes was a Spanish printmaker and painter of the Romantic era, whose magnificent production awarded him the position of one of the most pivotal Western painters in art history. While being considered one of the last Old Masters, he is also regarded as one of the first modern artists; from execution to subjects, Goya inspired and paved the way for a whole generation of artists to come. Although also a masterful portraitist, Goya's romantic drawing, paintings, and prints became especially known for their visceral execution and subject matters, including mythological paintings, executions, and the horrors of war. These elements were epitomized in his Black paintings, executed during his later years when the artist was suffering from emotional and psychological turmoils. The Spanish artist also masterfully utilized the contrast between light and shadows to convey emotions. He often created well-defined portions of dark and bright regions in the composition, creating a "spotlight effect" that greatly enhanced the overall theatricality and seriousness of the subject matter. This technique is beautifully exemplified by one of his masterpieces, The Third of May.
The Spanish painter Francisco Goya was born in March 1746, with the full name Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, in the town of Fuendetodos, Aragon. His parents, Gracia de Lucientes y Salvador and José Bendito de Goya y Franque had recently moved there from the capital city, Zaragoza. Goya had two older sisters, an older brother, as well as two younger brothers as well. Around 1749, their family would return to Zaragoza, where they bought a house. In 1760, Goya, who was only fourteen, began studying painting under José Luzán and continued with his teacher for the next four years.
After that, he decided to take what he learned and apply that on his own. The painter moved to Madrid and applied twice to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes of San Fernando, but didn't qualify, in 1763 and 1766. During this period, he studied with an artist of the Spanish royalty, Anton Raphael Mengs, but was confrontational against him.
Because of his frustration with the academy in Madrid, Goya decided to move to the cultural capital of Europe, Rome, where he was able to absorb Italian art. Many historians have speculated about his life during this period, but since he was still an unknown artist, not much is certain. In 1771, the Spanish painter was prized in a painting competition in Parma. The same year, he completed two of his early mythological paintings: The Sacrifice of Pan and Sacrifice to Vesta.
Goya got married to Josefa Bayeu y Subias on July 1773 - sister of his painting professor at the time, Francisco Bayeu y Subías. The couple had their first child about a year after getting married and named him Antonio Juan Ramon Carlos. The bond Goya had with his brother-in-law helped his artistic career, as Bayeu became a member of the San Fernando Real Academia de Bellas Artes in 1765 and years later became director of the tapestry works.
Goya was commissioned to conclude a series of illustrations to transfer onto the Royal Tapestry from 1777 to the next five years. During this period, he created more than forty designs in the Rococo art style, and although this kind of work wasn't very valued, it increased his popularity. The artist was also receiving commissions to produce copies of artworks from past masters in metal etchings - including prints from artists like Velazquez and Marcantonio Raimondi. Through etching - a craft he beautifully mastered - Goya was also able to spread his name as an artist.
Throughout the 1780s, the painter began receiving commissions from members of the Royal circle, like the portrait of The Count of Floridablanca in 1783. In 1786, he was given an official position as Charles III's painter, and three years later, he became the court painter. Goya completed the controversial portrait of the Royal family entitled Charles IV and His Family, giving the Queen the spotlight.
Another artwork that was not only controversial but also scandalous was the Maja Desnuda or The Nude Maja. According to scholars, Goya's use of a nude figure was greatly inspired by the artworks of the distinguished Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velazquez. The composition was greatly criticized by the lack of mythological or allegorical themes behind the painting. It was also denounced for, surprisingly, the depiction of the woman's pubic hair without negative connotations, which was associated with bad traits. The backlash was so that Goya would later create a clothed version of the painting, known as La Maja Vestida or The Clothed Maja.
By the early 1790s, Goya became ill and eventually completely deaf, which caused him to isolate himself and think he was going mad. The painter ended up having a complete breakdown, both mental and physical, a few weeks after the War of France against Spain was declared. Although many historians speculate on a series of diseases that the artist may have had, some find it possible he was suffering from lead poisoning - commonly found in paint and other painting and etching materials of the time.
The beginning of the Peninsular War was marked by the French invasion on Spanish grounds in 1808. By 1812, Goya had lost his beloved wife and painted two of his masterpieces in the same year: The Second of May and The Third of May.
The Third of May is a striking composition depicting a French firing squad about to execute Spanish people. This artwork is often considered the earliest modern war painting. The picture is made with Goya's masterful work of light and shadow to direct the viewer's eyes and intensify the dramatic qualities and pictorial impact of his paintings.
The composition is divided into two clear sections. On the right stands a line of French riflemen holding their bayonets. They are looking away from the viewer, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, shrouded in darkness, rendering them an anonymous and malicious presence. These elements contrast with the left portion of the composition, where a group of unarmed civilians stands in the light, as if under a spotlight. They are in despair as they are about to meet their demise in the hands of the French firing squad.
As opposed to the anonymous executioners, the Spanish people's faces are apparent and personified by a man with a white shirt on his knees as he holds his hands up high in surrender. He is the brightest region of the composition, becoming the main focus of the artwork, embodying and displaying the horrors of war through his horrified expression.
By the end of his career, he lived alone in his studio outside of Madrid. Goya completed his final series of fourteen Black Paintings, including Saturn Devouring His Sons, during a tense phase of mental distress at the age of seventy-five. All of the paintings were done directly onto the walls of his house and are his most dramatic works, with both intense execution and subjects, creating almost nightmarish fantasy art. According to scholars, these would be highly personal artworks since the artist did not provide any information regarding its creation, neither texts nor names. Their meaning ultimately became a matter of speculation.
One of the paintings is known as the Witches Sabbath. Much like the others, this artwork is executed with a somber color palette and an equally dark subject. It depicts, in the foreground, the silhouette of the devil embodied in a goat-headed figure. His dark figure and glowing white eyes intensify the fallen angel's evil nature. Circling him there's what is thought to be a coven of witches. The predominantly dark composition is only brightened to show the women's haggish faces, intensifying the overall sense of eerieness and dread that emanates from the canvas. The brushwork is now much rougher and loosely executed than Goya's earlier production, seeming they were made in a quick and frenzied manner, encompassing with his decaying state of mind.
Considered one of the greatest Spanish artists of all time, Goya passed away in April 1828 at the age of 82, while in Bordeaux, France. Francisco Goya is seen as one of the most pivotal painters of his generation, for his influence in art can still be felt to this day.
His production embodies a unique combination of modernity and tradition. Due to the reverence and inspiration drawn from his great predecessors such as Rembrandt and Velazquez, Goya worked in a traditional manner, as is evidenced in his court paintings. However, he also boldly questioned contemporary artistic and social conventions, rendering him as one of the first modern painters. Although he did not have any direct followers, Goya paved the way for a whole generation of artists to come.
Goya's social satires expressed especially through his prints heavily influenced the distinguished Belgian printmaker and painter James Ensor, whose artworks also mocked the powerful figures of his time. His broad and apparent brushstrokes would lead to the spontaneous painting execution of the Impressionists. He also influenced Expressionist and Surrealist artists, especially with his Black Paintings, for their dreamlike, almost nightmarish atmosphere. Salvador Dali would create his own take on Goya's Caprichos in 1973.