Posts Tagged ‘Francisco Goya’


 I will give a proof to demonstrate with facts that there are no rules in painting and that oppression or servile obligation of making all study or follow the same path is a great impediment for the young who profess this very difficult art.

–Francisco Goya


The great Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746-1828) is one of those artists whose work doesn’t always move me, especially that work that came before he was fifty year old and was serving as a Court Painter to the Spanish Crown. That work is fine but remains, for me, unremarkable. It feels academic and restrained and not unlike the work of any number of other Master painters.

It adhered to all the rules.

But with an illness in 1793 that left Goya with the deafness that profoundly affected him, his work began to move in an altogether different direction, one that would mark him as one of the great transitional artists in the move from the Old Masters to the modern era.

The work began to grow darker and was not centered around portraiture and genre paintings that would please the upper classes. The work from this time dealt with themes based on mythology, superstition and witchcraft, and the wars and political upheaval in the Europe of that era. It is often disturbing work that often eschewed the traditional rules of painting and created a new art form would come to define his name. One of his most well known paintings, The Third of May 1808, shown at the top, is considered a groundbreaking work in that it left behind many of the ideas that had ruled painting before it.

No Rules is an idea I have tried to embrace throughout my career. It’s nice to know that someone like Goya was one of the first painters to embrace it.

Here’s another thing that Goya said that strikes close to home for me:

Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.

Reason in painting is a quality that is not often discussed. But I believe that there has to be a sense of orderliness– reason— in painting that allows the viewer to connect with it, even if they don’t always fully understand why. Even the seemingly most chaotic abstractions usually possess a rhythm and sense of reason that allows an interaction.

I have really come to admire Goya’s work more and more over the years. The more I look the more I like. His work has directly– my Outlaws series came about as a result of seeing a group of his miniatures– and indirectly, with his words and thoughts, influenced my own work. Here are a few of my favorites. I encourage you to look on your own. Here is a link to a site with 700 images of his works.


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Goya’s Miniatures

I have written here about a series of small dark pieces that I painted a few years back which I called my Outlaws series, pieces that were of shadowy figures often holding pistols next to windows.  They had been greatly influenced by a number of later silent films of the 1920’s which featured haunting dark imagery as well as a group of small late paintings by Spanish master Francisco Goya that I had seen at the Frick Collection in NYC, along with other works from near the end of his life. 

The Goyas were were painted on small squares of ivory around 4 inches square  that had been coated with a ground of black carbon on which he dripped water which removed the carbon to reveal the shadow of white ivory below.  He would then look into this wetness and manipulate it to produce the images that he saw emerging from it.  The result was a series of small but powerful pieces that really resonated with me, especially in that I easily identified with his process in producing these plates, one that was very similar to the method of painting I first adopted in my earliest forays.

Here is a clip from the introduction to the Frick exhibition that describes his process:

Goya departed from the traditional miniature technique of stippling — applying tiny touches of color with a fine-pointed brush until they coalesce into the desired images — for a broader means of execution. His improvisational process is described by a young painter friend, Antonio de Brugada, who witnessed Goya at work:

His miniatures bore no resemblance to fine Italian miniatures nor even those of [Jean Baptiste] Isabey. . . . Goya had never been able to imitate anyone, and he was too old to begin. He blackened the ivory plaque and let fall on it a drop of water which removed part of the black ground as it spread out, tracing random light areas. Goya took advantage of these traces and always turned them into something original and unexpected.

In transforming the stains of water into recognizable forms, Goya added accents by scratching the surface with a sharp pointed instrument; touches of watercolor were deftly applied; outlines were reinforced in black; and small patches of the surface were wiped to produce a range of shadows and highlights.

It’s an interesting little group of pieces from Goya, one that I’m glad to have stumbled across.  I had looked often at his work and had admired much in it but this was the first work from this master that really hit me, sparking me in my own work.  You can see the rest of these images here.

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