The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 Thursday, January 21, 2021

Exhibition at the Prado explores the meaning of Goya's sketchbooks and print series
Image of the exhibition galleries. Photo © Museo Nacional del Prado.

MADRID.- On 19 November 1819 the new museum opened its doors to the public, at that date still a royal museum and comprising works from the exceptional collections of painting and sculpture assembled by Spain’s monarchs over more than 300 years. While Goya was still living in Madrid, three of his paintings - the two equestrian portraits of Charles IV and María Luisa de Parma and the Horseman with a Pike - were already hanging in the room that led into the Museum’s central gallery. Over the succeeding years the Museum would assemble the finest collection of Goya’s work, comprising around 150 paintings, 500 drawings, all the artist’s print series and a unique body of documentation in the form of his letters to his friend Martín Zapater.

This exhibition, which is the result of the remarkable richness of the Museo del Prado’s collections and of the work undertaken to prepare a new catalogue raisonné of Goya’s drawings in collaboration with the Fundación Botin, aims to reveal the different aspects that determine the meaning of the artist’s sketchbooks and print series.

The early years. 1771-78
From the start of his career Goya revealed his unique manner of seeing and transforming reality through his imagination, creating works that are radically different to those of his contemporaries. In 1771 the artist was in Italy where he kept a visual record of what he saw in a sketchbook. Its contents transmit an artistic personality remote from academic conventions. His few known drawings for the frescoes in the basilica of El Pilar in Zaragoza depict angels of a type that he would reuse for his female figures throughout his career. Finally, the preparatory drawings for the tapestry cartoons which Goya painted between 1775 and 1794 employ a natural, vigorous and realist mode in their depiction of the figures.

Earliest drawings for prints. 1772-94
In the early 1770s Goya began to focus on printmaking as a means of promoting and disseminating his work. His project to reproduce Velázquez’s paintings in the Royal Palace in Madrid in the form of etchings brought him both a positive reception from the general public and some criticism. Etching was the printmaking technique most widely used by painters as it did not require a lengthy and difficult process of mastery. For this series, which was offered for sale in July and December 1778, Goya produced preparatory drawings that are direct and accurate copies of the paintings. This approach allowed him to fully capture the essence of Velázquez as a portraitist.

Drawings in letters to Martín Zapater. 1775-1803
Goya frequently corresponded with his childhood friend from the time he left Zaragoza in January 1775 until Martín Zapater’s death on 24 January 1803. One hundred and forty-seven of his letters to Zapater are known, of which the Prado has one hundred and eighteen. They principally contain news on the artist’s daily life, as well as important information concerning his artistic activities and are written in a direct, colloquial language that demonstrates the two men’s close relationship. In addition, just as Goya’s handwriting reveals interesting aspects of his personality which could not otherwise be known, the drawings that he added to some letters express his ideas and emotions.

Sanlúcar Sketchbook [A]. 1794-95
This is the first of Goya’s eight sketchbooks of drawings. It was traditionally considered to have been made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cadiz) between 1796 and 1797 during the artist’s presumed stay at the Duchess of Alba’s palace. That date has recently been brought forward to 1794-95 and the sketchbook’s creation relocated to Madrid as it includes various drawings relating to the portrait of The Duchess of Alba in white (Madrid, Fundación Casa de Alba) painted in 1795.

Only nine sheets from the sketchbook are known. Executed in brush and extremely light wash, they focus on women engaged in a range of seemingly pleasurable actions but with an undertone of drama, given that various scenes depict prostitutes and anticipate subjects which would appear in the Caprichos of 1799.

Madrid Sketchbook [B]. 1795-97
The initial pages of this sketchbook are formally and conceptually very close to those of Sketchbook A. Once again Goya focuses on the world of women, depicting majas out strolling, procuresses and gentlemen flirting with the ladies, although arguments, fights and jealousy are also present. The nature of the scenes changes from sheet 55 with a new distortion of some of the figures’ faces and bodies in order to describe evil and ignorance, drama, masks, flagellants and witches and to offer a marked satire on the clergy. In this second part of the sketchbook Goya added titles to his drawings. Its ninety-six drawings provided the ideas and compositions for many of the prints in the Caprichos.

Dreams. 1796-97
This group of drawings is the starting point for the Caprichos print series published in 1799. In compositional terms, some of them are based on images in the Madrid Sketchbook. Executed with precise pen strokes, their lines were faithfully reproduced in the prints.

These drawings include a number of the themes that interested Enlightenment thinkers, dissimulated under the guise of the artist’s dream: witchcraft and superstition as an expression of ignorance; prostitution; arranged marriages and deception in amorous relationships; the critique of a nobility rooted in the ideas of the past; the censure of vices and the ineptitude of the ruling classes.

Caprichos. 1797-99
On 6 February 1799 the Diario de Madrid published an advertisement for the sale of the Caprichos, a series of images that primarily constitute a satire intended to combat the vices and the absurdity of human behaviour. The eighty prints in the series can be grouped around four themes: deception and abuse in relations between men and women; a satire on incorrect education and ignorance; the vices deeprooted in civil society and the clergy; and abuses of power.

Goya produced preparatory drawings for all the prints. After the initial series of drawings of the Dreams, which are executed in pen and ink, he almost exclusively employed red chalk.

Portraits Goya devoted much of his activities to portraiture, a genre that brought him renown and financial success. These works are principally characterised by their emotional depth, in addition to the obligatory physical resemblance to the sitter and a sense of decorum, the latter implying the appropriateness of the projected image to the sitter’s social and professional status. The subjects’ faces reveal more than just their physical appearance, conveying their inner personalities. As Goya’s son Javier commented in his biography of his father, Rembrandt and Velázquez were his masters.

Sketchbook F. 1812-20
Despite its thematic variety this sketchbook reveals a common concern, expressed in its depictions of situations in which poverty, violence and tragedy prevail. As such, it presents an overview of the oppressive climate of the Spanish War of Independence and the immediate post-war period. Due to the scarcity of paper Goya used writing paper. Stylistically, this is a very rich and varied group with some drawings executed in a rapid, abbreviated manner and others very precisely. With just a few exceptions the artist did not add inscriptions to these images and the titles thus reflect the interpretative criteria of the art historians who have catalogued or studied them over time.

Disasters of War. 1810-14
This series is based on events that took place during the Spanish War of Independence although its universal nature has allowed it to transcend its historical moment, constituting a fully modern vision of war and its tragic consequences. The first part depicts violent scenes of fighting, abuse, executions and death, while the second offers an overview of the dire consequences of the famine in Madrid during the war. The last part, known as the “Emphatic caprichos”, confronts the viewer with the political repression that took place under Ferdinand VII. The preparatory drawings are executed in extremely precise strokes of red chalk and were very faithfully transferred to the copperplates. The series was not published until 1863.

Tauromaquia. 1814-16
This is the third of Goya’s print series, which went on sale in 1816 but proved a resounding commercial failure as no one was seemingly interested in purchasing images of undoubted beauty but also of terrible violence. In these compositions, which share the critical and dramatic context of the Disasters of War, Goya reflects the contemporary Enlightenment debate on the legitimacy of bullfighting. The series charts the history of bullfighting from antiquity to Goya’s own day. To illustrate the 18th century he chose well-known figures in the bullfighting world, some engaged in actions with fatal consequences. The preparatory drawings were executed in red chalk and were reproduced relatively exactly in the prints.

Goya devoted much of his creative energy to denouncing life-threatening forms of human conduct through his images. As such, he presented violence as an essential element of the human condition, a concept similarly expressed in 1782 by the enlightened jurist Manuel de Lardizábal in his Discourse on the punishments associated with criminal laws in Spain, with the aim of facilitating their reform.

“Men’s ever-burning passions and malice in all its forms, which lodges in the profound and tortuous depths of the human heart, naturally lead to perfidy, deceit, discord, injustice, violence, oppression and all the other vices and crimes that work to disturb the peace and safety of individuals, maintaining the republic in a constant state of agitation and danger.”

Room B

Goya’s classic themes: bulls and bullfighting, witches and majas
A chronological survey of Goya’s graphic work reveals the existence of a series of themes and ideas that recur throughout his career. From the mid-19th century some of them evolved into clichés that have survived to the present day, establishing a popular vision of an artist who was simultaneously a sympathetic chronicler of the society of his day, peopled by majas and bullfighters, and an imaginative and tortured creator of scenes of witches and monsters. While the more serious studies have rejected that superficial, clichéd view of Goya, it continues to prevail in the collective imagination. A careful study, however, reveals that what appear to be majas are generally not in fact women of that type but rather young women obliged to work as prostitutes; that rather than casting spells Goya’s witches are engaged in a carnal trade of children and adolescents; and that while the bullfighters are indeed such, they are shown risking their lives in feats of such evident perilousness that they run contrary to any basic survival instinct.

Black Borders Sketchbook [E]. 1816-20
This sketchbook is very close to the Old Women and Witches Sketchbook [D], with which it shares technical characteristics such as the use of carbon black ink wash and scraper and high quality white, laid paper. Its 54 known drawings, which are extremely imposing due to the size of the figures and the large amount of white space around them, have borders carefully painted in brush from which this sketchbook takes its name.

The compositions frequently present themes with references to mythology or philosophy as well as reflections on human relations. While Goya had focused on such issues on earlier occasions, here they are they are taken further and reveal the lucidity of his thought.

Old Women and Witches Sketchbook [D]. 1819-23
This possibly unfinished sketchbook contains one of Goya’s most unique and obsessive groups of drawings due to the repetitive succession of scenes devoted to old age, particularly that of women, and the presence of witches. The latter were first devised and explored by the artist in the Caprichos but here they are real beings, lacking the extreme and grotesque distortions of the earlier ones which convey their embodiment of evil.

The drawings in this sketchbook reveal an interesting technical shift, as in addition to using larger sheets of paper Goya made use of washes of carbon black ink which permitted a greater tonal range, from light grey to deep black.

Follies. 1815-24
The composition and dimensions of the twenty drawings housed in the Prado, in addition to the fact that several show the marks of the press from being transferred to a copperplate, seem to indicate that they are preparatory for the etchings that Goya entitled Disparates [Follies] but which were unconvincingly retitled Proverbios [Proverbs] for the first edition of 1864.

These remarkably modern images have been interpreted in numerous different ways, ranging from a satire on the customs of society in general to one on the politics of the complex period of Ferdinand VII and its turbulent shifts, alternating absolutism and ferocious repression with brief periods of greater liberty and hope, during which the monarch even temporarily re-established the Constitution.

The crowd
A good example of Goya’s familiarity with contemporary thought is the recurrent appearance in his drawings of the crowd or the mob, which acquires a clearly negative connotation. The article on this subject in Denis Diderot and Jean D’Alembert’s Encyclopédia also expresses a negative opinion due to the crowd’s irrationality, ignorance and inhumanity. In many of his drawings Goya introduced groups of figures that watch or participate in violent or ridiculous scenes in a passive manner. The figures that make up these crowds either lack faces or have ones that are the quintessential expression of stupidity. The fact that such groups can be manipulated is not an excuse as their irrationality makes them accessories to evil, as the Encyclopédie notes, for which reason they are executioners rather than victims. As such, the crowd becomes an unformed mass or rabble that is in itself a target for censure.

Bordeaux Sketchbook [G]. 1824-28
Sketchbooks G and H were created in Bordeaux, probably simultaneously or within a short space of time, as their formal, stylistic and technical similarity reveals. In them Goya gave full play to his inventive powers, basing himself on both real events he had witnessed in the city and characters observed on its streets as well as on his imagination alone.

Sketchbook G includes the major themes present throughout his career but with a shift from a satirical to a grotesque tone: human falsity, inequality, poverty, irrationality, individual and group violence, and madness. Most of the drawings have autograph titles.

Bordeaux Sketchbook [H]. 1824-28
In 1825 Goya wrote a letter to Joaquín María Ferrer, a politician exiled in Paris, in which he enclosed one of the lithographs of the Bulls of Bordeaux with the idea that Ferrer would help him to sell them. Ferrer, however, suggested that he republish the Caprichos but Goya replied to his esteemed patron saying that he now had “better ideas”, including these two sketchbooks. Sketchbooks G and H reflect the artist’s interest in lithography at this period and his use of it in Bordeaux. Executed in black crayon, it is likely the drawings were made to be reproduced as a series of lithographs. In Sketchbook H only five have titles but almost all are signed up to sheet 40.

Violence against women
Within the context of violence, that exercised by men against women occupies a particularly prominent place in the artist’s work. So important are women in Goya’s oeuvre that various thematic exhibitions have been devoted to this subject. In the Disasters of War, for example, it has always been noted that the female characters are the only ones to be presented positively, either as innocent victims comparable to the children and old men in these scenes, or for their dignified, courageous actions in defence of themselves and their families. Nonetheless, while it has often been observed that many of the women present in works from the period of the Caprichos are associated with prostitution, analyses of these scenes have not focused on the theme of violence against women. If prostitution is to be understood in this sense, the beautiful drawings of prostitutes in Sketchbooks A and B and in the compositions of the Caprichos should be interpreted as images of suffering and abuse, when not of actual violence. The repetition of scenes on this subject clearly reveals Goya’s awareness of injustice and specifically of the suffering and distress that the activity of prostitution causes to women. He also, however, questioned marriage, so often unequal in nature, as Enlightenment authors had already emphasised, and which on occasions became “a prison full of hardships”, as the artist himself set out to show. Goya’s frequently emphasised modernity in this regard lies in the innovative nature of his approach regardless of the nature of the commission, in which he gave free rein to his thinking but also to his capacity to cast a critical eye on male patterns of behaviour worthy of censure (in a way comparable to the revolutionary French writer Olympe de Gouges in her Declaration of the rights of women and female citizens of 1789) and which lamentably continue to exist today.

“By habit we look at them as born only for our pleasure”
The lowly status assigned to women, transformed into objects in the service of men, was also criticised by Jovellanos. With regard to this inequality, in 1785 he wrote: “By habit we look at them as born only for our pleasure, studiously separating them from all the active professions and entrapping them.” The drawings included in the section of the exhibition headed by this phrase depict young and often naked women in situations that reveal their “objectification”, to employ a contemporary term. Goya’s gaze is not ambiguous as the tone that characterises these compositions is undoubtedly critical and leaves no doubt as to his position.

Old age
Old age is the last of the great themes analysed by Goya. Vulnerable and disadvantaged old people frequently appear in the artist’s prints and drawings and these figures gradually acquire increasing significance, becoming true reflections on man’s fate. Significantly, the exhibition ends with the drawing I am still learning, a symbol of the power to progress and resist in the face of adversity and a work that eloquently expresses Goya’s forward-looking spirit at this period.

“I’ve aged, with many wrinkles and you wouldn’t recognise me except for my snub nose and sunken eyes [...] what is clear is that I’m showing my 41 years.” Letter from Goya to Martín Zapater of 28 November 1787

“Be thankful for the poor writing for I have neither good sight nor a steady hand, and neither pen nor inkwell, I lack everything and only my strength of will remains.” Letter from Goya to Joaquín María Ferrer of 20 December 1825

Sketchbook C. 1808-14
The contents of this sketchbook encompass a wide variety of themes ranging from aspects of daily life to dream-like visions. A large group comprises drawings of individuals condemned by the Inquisition and depictions of the cruelty of confinement in prisons while another very notable one offers a critique of the monastic Orders, the lifestyle of their members and the defrocking of monks and nuns following the disentailment of the religious houses in Spain.

Sketchbook C has been seen as a graphic diary in which Goya drew everything that interested and concerned him, particularly the fate of the most underprivileged. It is the one that contains the largest number of drawings and the only one to have survived almost complete. The Museo del Prado houses 120 of its 126 known drawings, which are now shown together for the first time in this unique and unrepeatable exhibition.

Today's News

November 23, 2019

Exhibition at the Prado explores the meaning of Goya's sketchbooks and print series

Lark Mason Associates hammers nearly $160,000 for Old Masters, Modern and Contemporary sale

UK men jailed for stealing Viking treasure

More than 140 Nazca Lines are discovered in Peruvian desert

Fossils provide clues to when snakes still had use for a pair of legs

Met receives major gift of late 19th-century American decorative arts and paintings

Original handwritten lyrics for Elton John's greatest hits to be offered at Bonhams

Marvel Comics No. 1 sells for $1.26 Million at Heritage Auctions, is most expensive Marvel comic ever sold

David Zwirner to represent Barbara Kruger in Collaboration with Sprüth Magers

At the entrenched Met Museum, the new Director shakes things up

Sotheby's to auction Paul Rudolph's 'Walker Guest House' - An icon of Modern American architecture

Galeria Nara Roesler announces the representation of JR

Togo turns ex-colonial palace into flagship art centre

The Huntington names Janet Alberti as its Chief Financial Officer

EXPO CHICAGO announces 2020 Program Curators

Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art Holds Yearlong Exhibition of works by Katsushika Hokusai

The first-ever production car and a flying car on display in the V&A's major retrospective on the automobile

20 years of travel posters at Swann pays off with 10 new records

Map showing the impact of an AI device named best design of 2019

Pi Artworks London opens an exhibition of works by London-based painter Selma Parlour

Miller & Miller announces Advertising & Historic Objects auction, Dec. 7

Trump honors legendary actor (and rare Hollywood supporter) Voight

'Humour saved my life', says subversive director John Waters

From Bardot to Diana, iconic Paris Match photos to go under hammer

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful