Francisco de Goya
Biography and
Chronology

Biography of Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, Father of Modern Art (1746–1828)

Introduction

Francisco Goya is widely known as one of the most important Spanish artists of all time and is often heralded as a pivotal figure in the transition to modern art. Straddling two transformational centuries, Goya emerged as one of the key artistic voices of his generation and ushered in the innovative spirit of the 19th century.

Born and raised in the small town of Fuendetodos in northeastern Spain, Goya discovered his artistic skill at a remarkably early age. Indeed, he was yet in his teens when he moved to Madrid to study with Raphael Mengs, one of the leading Neoclassical painters of the late 18th century. His ascent to success from that point was quite rapid; soon after, he was appointed as Royal Court Painter for the Spanish monarchy, achieving the most supreme rank of court painters, the Primer Pintor de Cámara, in 1799.

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

Caprichos Etching, Self-Portrait (With Hat), 1796–97, Davidson Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT

Accomplishing this prestigious pinnacle, Goya was nevertheless already reconsidering the purpose of his paintings. As the new century dawned, Goya rapidly abandoned the Rococo vibrancy that had dominated his court compositions in the late 18th century and instead adopted a much more sober palette. His painterly technique loosened as well, but what was perhaps most powerful in this transition was his shift in subject matter. His passions for politics and Spanish identity ran deep, so much so that the mood of his compositions seemingly in accordance with the Spanish political situation.

This profundity grew exponentially over the early decades of the 19th century, culminating in the early 1820s with his Pinturas Negras, or "Black Paintings." Painted on the walls of his own Madrid home, these dark and foreboding paintings, including the iconic Saturn Devouring His Son, revealed the extent to which political tensions – as well as fears of insanity and total isolation – dominated Goya's final works. Though Goya died in relative obscurity, his works have since been exalted as a turning point in art history. His ability to so grippingly render the raw emotions of his fellow man – as exemplified in paintings such as Third of May, 1808 – transformed Goya from court painter to contemporary innovator, making his work a key landmark in the march toward modernism. He developed techniques and purveyed a style that dramatically influenced the masters who followed him, among them Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon.

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CHILDHOOD

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was born to José Benito de Goya y Franque and Garcia de Lucientes y Salvador on March 30, 1746, in Fuendetodos, a small village near Zaragoza Spain. His father was a gilder, and his mother was from a poor family. In 1749 Goya's family moved to Zaragoza (“Saragossa” in English), where his father worked on the Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a very large church in Zaragoza. It was there that Goya was exposed to the professional world of art. He attended school at Escuelas Pías in Zaragoza, where he started a lifelong friendship with Martín Zapater. Correspondence between Goya and Zapater later became vital information for art historians. At the age of 14, Goya entered into an apprenticeship with José Luzán Martínez, a mediocre, Rococo painter, popular as a church decorator. Martínez started a painting academy called the Primera Junta Preparatoria in 1749. Goya attended this painting academy for four years, where he learned to draw and copy prints by the Masters.

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

Self-Portrait (As A Young Man), 1771–75, Courtesy Of A Private Collection

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

The Parasol, 1777, Courtesy Of The Museo Del Prado, Spain

Adulthood

At the age of 17, Goya moved to Madrid. Charles III was king of Spain and was displeased with the quality of Spanish art at the time. He recruited two of the best painters in Europe, Neoclassical painter Raphael Mengs and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, both of Venice, to come to Madrid to invigorate Spanish art. Goya studied with Raphael Mengs, who was then working as a court painter. While living in Madrid, Goya submitted entries to the Royal Academy of Fine Art in 1763, 1766, and 1770, but was rejected each time.

In the meantime, Goya's apprenticeship with Mengs was not going well. Goya continued working under Mengs until he earned enough money to travel to Rome to study the Renaissance frescoes. In 1771 Goya traveled to Rome and lived off the money he made from his artwork. He won second prize in a painting contest sponsored by the city of Parma. Later the same year, Goya returned to Zaragoza and won commissions to paint frescoes for the Basilica of the Pillar, the Aula Dei, and the Sobradiel Palace, all located in Zaragoza. These frescoes earned Goya credit as a late Baroque, early Rococo painter, and are probably the last he did in Zaragoza. Goya began to study with the painter Francisco Bayeu y Subías, Mengs' first assistant and a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Art. Under Bayeu's direction, Goya's painting began to exhibit the subtle nuances that made him famous.

In 1773 Goya married Doña Josefa Bayeu, Francisco Bayeu's sister. Goya and Josefa bore many children, but only a son, Francisco Xavier, lived to adulthood. Josefa's brother, Francisco, arranged a position for Goya with the Royal Tapestry Workshop, where he designed tapestry patterns from 1774 to 1792. In his designs, Goya employed scenes of fishing and hunting, folk life, and countrysides – all subjects influenced by French art. These tapestries, which showed the combined influences of Mengs and Tiepolo, adorned the walls of El Escorial and the Palacio Real de Pardo, which were the residences of the Spanish monarchs. This introduced Spanish royals to Goya's talent, and they began to allow him access to the royal court. Sir Lawrence Gowing observes that The Parasol, a tapestry cartoon created by Goya during this time period, "strikes such a perfect balance between the ornate outlines of Tiepolo and the classical solidity of Mengs that it could be called one of the last great accomplishments of the Baroque school."

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

Etching By Goya Of Velázquez's Las Meninas, 1777–78, Unknown Location

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

The Crucifixion, 1780, Courtesy Of The Museo Del Prado, Spain

Once Goya was allowed into the royal court in Madrid, he would have access to the royal collection and be able to study the works of the Spanish masters. One of these masters was Diego Velázquez. Goya began working with etching from 1777-–1778 and learned the technique of aquatint. He introduced himself to the works of Velázquez by etching a series of his paintings. Velázquez influenced Goya's artistic maturity more than any other artist of Goya's time.

Goya was not accepted as a court painter until much later, but in 1780 Goya was granted a commission to paint a canvas for the altar of the Church of San Francisco El Grande. This painting, The Crucifixion, earned him the honor of Academician and an appointment to the Royal Academy. For the next t10 years, Goya struggled to become Spain's leading painter. His work for prominent families of Madrid, such as the Osunas and the politician Floridablanca, continued to perpetuate Goya's artistic career. When Charles III died in 1788 and Charles IV ascended to the throne in 1789, a revolution was building in France. Charles IV appointed Goya to the position of Court Painter, and he was now responsible for producing a whole series of royal portraits, continuing his tapestry designs, and completing an ever-increasing amount of commissions. Goya was aware of his increasing popularity in society, and he produced several self-portraits.

In the meantime, the threat of the French Revolution and the domination by his queen, Maria Luisa, and her Field Marshall, Godoy, caused Charles IV to fall into an emotional frenzy. In addition, many of Goya's pro-French friends were banished from Spain. It is perhaps because of these anxieties and exhaustion that Goya suffered a mysterious illness from 1792 to 1793. Some speculate that the illness was cholera that caused Goya to suffer from a high fever, resulting in deafness. Goya became withdrawn and introspective. He stayed with Sebastián Martínez, a private art collector, during the five years it took him to recuperate, at which time Goya's work took a new direction. As demonstrated in the paintings and prints in Martinez's collection, Goya discovered a new selection of subjects and images to paint. He also discovered freedom from the limitations of patronage, and he developed a new intensity and boldness in his work. As Goya convalesced, he read about the French Revolution and its ideas. He sank more into himself and became more aware of the depths of his own psyche and inner demons. He fantasized visions of cruelty and the macabre. He returned to painting at the end of 1790s, but his colors grew darker and his brushwork looser. Goya's style became more expressive as he depicted the grizzly, contorted insanity caused by a growing social tension between traditional Spain and the liberal ideas behind the French Revolution.

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

Self-Portrait Of Goya (Standing), 1790–95, Courtesy Of Royal Academy Of San Fernando

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

Caprichos Etching It Is Time, 1796–97, Courtesy Of Davidson Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT

In 1799, a series of 80 etchings entitled Caprichos emerged. Many of the captioned plates from this series demonstrated the liberal thought of the day and the new, freer style Goya had developed during his illness. This broad, uninhibited style can be observed in all of Goya's work from this period and is evident in the earthy Naturalism depicted in The Family of Charles IV, (1800–1801). Goya continued to be court painter even though he had outgrown it. His court portraits became caricatures exposing the weaknesses of his sitters. This can be observed in the facial features of Goya's Portrait of King Ferdinand VII of Spain in the Uniform of a General.

From 1808 to 1814, the Spanish people endured the atrocities of the Napoleonic wars. These horrors filled Goya with such outrage that he used the full force of his painting to assault the insane behavior of his fellowman. The art that resulted from this attack contained no heroes, only killers and the dead. Napoleon forced the abdication of Charles IV, kidnapped Ferdinand, his heir, and took him to France. Napoleon appointed his brother, Joseph, king of Spain.

Through all these events and the succession of a new Spanish court, Goya was still well received as a court painter. In 1812, as Goya was completing his Disasters of War prints, and painting The Third of May 1808, his wife Josefa, passed away. Within a few years Goya's housekeeper, Doña Leocadia Weiss, moved in with him. Leocadia was 25 and Goya was 68 when she entered his household. She brought two children with her, Guillermo and Maria del Rosario, allegedly conceived during her marriage to don Isidore Weiss. She was separated from Weiss when she moved in with Goya. Scholars speculate that by the presence of the children in Goya's home, and especially Goya's public adoration of Rosario, that he was their true biological father. Rosario actually studied painting with Goya.

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

Portrait Of King Ferdinand VII Of Spain In The Uniform Of A General, 1814, Courtesy Of The Museo Del Prado, Spain

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

Woman Reading To Children, 1824–25

In 1814 the Spanish Monarchy was restored, King Ferdinand returned to the Spanish throne, but Goya was not met with the same cordiality as Ferdinand's predecessor. Goya was pardoned for serving the French, but the new king was not in favor of Goya's work. Ferdinand purged the new government of liberals and reinstalled the Inquisition. Goya came under the scrutiny of the Inquisition for his painting, The Nude Maja. Allegedly this painting was a portrait of Field Marshall Godoy's lover, and it was one of the few nudes in Spanish art at the time.

In 1816 Goya published his Tauromaquia, a series of etchings on bullfighting. From 1819 to 1824, Goya lived in a house that he called Quinta del Sordo ("House of the Deafman"), located outside of Madrid. Once again freed from court restraints, he developed an even more personal style.

In 1824 Goya voluntarily exiled himself to Bordeaux to escape Ferdinand's oppressive rule. He returned to Spain only for brief visits and continued to work at his home until his death on April 16, 1824. His housekeeper and mistress, Leocadia, and their daughter, Maria del Rosario, were with Goya at his deathbed.

Goya is rumored to have had an intimate relationship with the 13th Duchess of Alba (María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Álvarez de Toledo). Goya executed several portraits of the Duchess while she was staying at Sanbicar de Barranneda shortly after her husband, the Duke of Medina-Sedona (José Maria Alvarez de Toledo y Gonsaga) died in 1796.

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

The Nude Maja, 1797–80, Courtesy Of The Museo Del Prado, Spain

Self-Portrait, Degas, 1855

The White Duchess, 1795, Courtesy Of The Alba Collection, Madrid, Spain

The extent of their relationship has never been confirmed, but from the sheer number of portraits he painted of her, it is suggested they at least had a very close friendship. The Duchess's personality is said to have been eccentric, and her relationship with Goya has caused some modern-day curiosity, since her death over two centuries ago. The Duchess had an adopted daughter, but no children of her own.

Goya influenced artists of the Impressionistic, Expressionistic, and Surrealistic movements, some of whom were Monet and Picasso. Eugène Delacroix is said to have been one of Goya's greatest admirers.