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Francisco Goya and Art As Self-Expression

March 7, 2012

Considering I have not yet written on early 19th Century, and it was among the most interesting periods we have studied this quarter to me, this is the time period I will be writing on.

The work of Francisco Goya was particularly interesting to me for a number of reasons. I appreciate an artist whose work embodies their personal life, or at the very least, an artist sensitive enough to allow their personal life to impart some amount of narrative on their body of work. In the textbook, Goya’s three selections (Sleep of Reason, Family of Charles IV, and Third of May 1808) show the evolution of a man struggling with the moral implications of hypocrisy in his life.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is one etching of a series that promoted Enlightenment ideals, opposing the views held by the royalty for whom Goya worked. Four years later, Goya painted a family portraiture for Charles IV that subtly mocks the royal family. Subtlety is the key here, as there is nothing blatantly offensive about the painting (unless it was expected of an artist to hide the double chin of a Queen). However, the expressions of Charles the IV’s family are either disconnected or distracted, as if nobody but the King really wants to be there and they are merely humoring him with compliance (as his cheating wife and dissenting court painter were humoring him). In 1808, the French overtook Spain and in that same year French troops massacred revolting Spaniards in an event that served as inspiration for Goya’s Third of May, 1808. The painting is painted in a Romantic style, with loose brush strokes and intense depiction of emotion. The focal point is a Spaniard in a brightly contrasting white shirt in a Christ-like pose, pleading for mercy before a row of French troops. Goya lets his frustrated and confused emotions dictate the style of the piece, and imparts his emotions on the bewildered figure that is the focal point (Goya initially welcomed the more liberal French occupiers). Goya explicitly gave his intention for painting the piece: “To warn men never to do it again”. For me, I have a very hard time separating my judgments of an artist from my judgments of their art (ideally I would not judge either, but it would be narcissistic to deny that I do). Considering this, I am drawn to an artist that exhibits positive personal qualities in their art, such as Goya’s obvious feelings of compassion and empathy displayed in Third of May, 1808 or Goya’s demonstration of rebellion in the Los Caprichos series.

Artists allowing their work to be an expression of themselves is not a practice confined to late 18th/early 19th century periods; as long as humans have been creating art, certain artists and artistic periods have placed emphasis on self-expression. From Albrecht Durer’s Protestant/humanist driven work in the 16th century to the Egyptian Armana period and its’ references to a culture/tradition getting turned upside-down, artwork that shows the character and eccentricities of the humans and cultures that produced that art are the ones I find most interesting.



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One Comment
  1. I also like artists that demonstrate “positive personal qualities” in their art. There are some artists that I like for aesthetic reasons, but I can’t wholly relate to them because of their lifestyle or actions. (The late 19th century painter Gauguin immediately comes to mind.)

    -Prof. Bowen

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