14 Different books reviewed or described below:

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By Robert Hughes

Published by Alfred Knopf, November 2003
ISBN 0394580281
448 pages
Printed in Spain

PURCHASE AT AMAZON.COM (Softcover, from $19.00

Dustjacket text here.

This book appears to have grown out of the review essay Hughes wrote in 1989 for the Goya in the Age of Enlightenment exhibit in New York City. He cannibalizes a number of the phrases and ideas he used in that essay, and has added a great deal more to flesh out this 448 page book.

Motivated by an affection (which is obvious on these pages) for his subject, and also a seeming identification, Hughes travels through the history of Goya's life and his artwork with hard words for (what he supposes) are Goya's enemies, understanding for Goya's friends and affections, and some back-and-forth on what are the real facts about the various legends that are thrown up around the Spanish painter. At times, Hughes moves very fast through events, and he is apparently more excited to discuss some things (for example, the Duchess of Alba, or the Maja Desnuda) versus some other things (e.g., The Milkmaid of Bordeaux.) Hughes energy and easy writing style makes this book sometimes much less an art history book versus a kind of personal journey into Goya, with Hughes as the enthusiastic guide.

The reproduction quality of the images in this book are excellent, though too small (the volume is 9.5" x 11", approximately) and I came across but one production error (a typo) in all of these many pages. A thorough review addressing some of the ideas in Hughes book will be presented on the next major update here on the Goya site.
(Below) An anonymous rebut to Hughes' book which I received via e-mail:
On the Hughes bio, the reviewer mentions finding only one typo. I found several, the most obvious being the mistaken citation of "Ben Turpin" for "Dick Turpin" in discussing the English semi-legendary highwayman (Ben Turpin was a silent film comedian). There are others; but I was most struck by Hughes's discussion of Allegory of the Constitution (pp 270-271), in which either the figure or the one Hughes references is reversed; right means left. It is odd that anyone who examines the text with any attentiveness would not have picked up on this point. At other points, there are discrepancies between titles of works, as they are captioned and as they are cited in the text. One senses a somewhat cursory copy-edit; and that Hughes himself may not have emerged from his accident with a good command of his observational abilities. One other point: I DO find the quality and small size of the figures to be problematical. I found it difficult to identify many of the details Hughes cited in his commentary.

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By Fred Licht

Published by Abbeville Press
ISBN 0789207273
First Edition, 2001
360 pages
Printed in Spain

The presentation in Fred Licht's Goya of what the artwork means and where it fits in art history is strict and precise. The approach is in a tone that would agree with the ear (or eye) of the art modernist. Often the analysis is couched in existential ideas, and in a modernist chronology showing Goya as a proto-Modernist leading up to the contemporary era of pure modernism. There seems to be some circular reasoning in this, and also the suggestion that Goya's accomplishment is reflected primarily in a different era of art (i.e., the modernist era.)

Licht takes his subject with a great deal of gravitas, and there are moments when this art history book crosses over into art theology, with Goya as prophet and Licht as priest. He is enthusiastic about Goya and the paintings, and that he has a great deal of affection for what Goya accomplished is evident in page after page, and deep, heartfelt meanings are found by Licht at every turn.

"...monsters are merely irregular manifestations that scandalize our sense of the fitting and the natural. They exist only, as the original frontispiece of the Caprichos informs us, when reason sleeps. It is only the slothfulness of our minds that allows monsters to exist.

In the Black Paintings, the monsters are not intruders but the rightful and eternal inhabitants of the external as well as the internal universe of men. Waking or sleeping, reason encounters what is unreasonable or antireasonable. It is impossible to say whether or not monsters we face while asleep are fiercer, more real, and more pervasive than the monsters that attack us when we wake from the nightmares of our oppressed souls to the equally ferocious nightmare of what by convention is called the real world." (Page 215)

The obvious rejoinder I felt from reading some of the analysis provided by Licht was simply what if Goya was a habitual prankster? There's an argument to be made that Goya hardly took everything as seriously as the art historians do. This is not to say Goya was not struck to the heart when he was making the Disasters of War or any number of other images documenting the horrors of his time. But there is a kind of over-the-top levity in the visual assault of the Black Paintings. Was Goya but a brooding, dark figure decorating his home with these images? Isn't there some gallow humor in (at least) his dining hall scene in which the two bony eating companions on the wall are pointing across at something or someone (Goya?)

But Licht handles Goya's artwork with a heavier and darker feel. For example, he finds echoes, if not a possible direct correlation between the age-old anti-Jewish blood libel and the Saturn image from the Black Paintings, and yet in the next paragraph says "...Goya's version of the Saturn legend is eccentric beyond the point of recognition." (Page 221) I would not say that this is a case of having your cake and eating it, too, because Licht simply has more ideas per page than many Goya books have per chapter. He seems to have thought about these images for a long time, and to have carefully placed them in a catalogue of personal meaning.

Mr. Licht's book is a gorgeous, large volume with excellent four-color reproductions (it measures approximately 11" x 13" inches ). I have not seen better offset reproduction of Goya's paintings in any other book I possess. However, there are a number of production gaffs in the books first chapter, none of which alter the quality of the image reproductions, but make for annoying reading on several text pages. More serious is the condition of reproduction on a number of the black and white Goya etchings – these images have been digitally "enhanced" through (I suspect) Adobe Photoshop unsharp masking, and the result is misleading (as an example, see page 135 – the linework is broken up badly, and viewing the image through a magnifying loupè shows that the source image was apparently a halftone book page). I would not lay these issues to rest with Mr. Licht, though, but with the Abbeville production team that triumphed (as I mentioned, this book has incredible reproduction qualities) but also failed in a few places. A remarkable book and not of the usual variety of "art history."

Buy the book off the Abbeville website here.
(We don't get anything if you order from this page.
Abbeville Press sent us a copy of the book to
review and we very much appreciate it.)
(Below: From the dustjacket of Fred Licht's book Goya)

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By Xavier de Salas, Xavier
Published by Mayflower Books, 1978
ISBN 0831739509
206 pages
Printed in Italy

Xavier de Salas writing on Goya in this volume has the warm, easy pace of someone who has handled the subject over and over (Salas' author credit says that he has produced over 180 books). He seems more concerned with explaining the basics for the reader versus charging into any thick and weighty debate, which is a nice difference since the subject of Goya typically provokes easy argumentation. While de Salas flatly declares which way he stands on a number of issues (for example, the supposed affair between Goya & the Duchess of Alba, i.e., it didn't happen), he also presents the reasoning behind the opposite position. This is done in a deferential manner, and with great tact, which, I think, reveals the Spanish culture that de Salas is writing from (this book is an English translation from the Spanish). American writers, particularly with regards to Goya, have things to prove, and don't have time for such niceties, which can conjure a sort of high school debate atmosphere to a book written in that way.

Which speaks all the more to the grace of de Salas' volume. He writes in a straight forward, authoritative manner, and has a personal tone toward the reader. Salas approaches Goya as if he were an artist and a man, not a god, which is a tendency with some art historians. Perhaps this is because for de Salas, Goya is a talented and thoughtful countryman, not a foreign genius and peg to hang modernist art theory upon.

Considering its age, the production qualities on this 9.5" x 13" book holds up well. While much of the reproduction on the images are poor by comparison to any modern book published since the 1980s, there is a certain quality to the photography which is not found in modern techniques. Chiefly this is in the instances when a paintings surface is in relief, such that brush strokes can be seen in the color. This is a fascinating attribute that does not show up in newer books, since the aim in reproduction is capturing the flatness of the painting. (Example below, detail from the portrait of Gaspar Melchor Jovellanos, 1798)



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By Sarah Symmons
Published by Phaidon Press, 1998
ISBN 0714837512
352 pages
Printed in Singapore

Symmon's writing in this book has a tour guide feel to it; sometimes I felt as if I was walking from one painting to another, cut off from what went before as a new image was described. Yet Symmons is comfortable with her subject and seems to take pains to be thorough without being wordy. The amount of information is perhaps overwhelming, and I have found that this is a book that I can open at just about any place and begin reading, since an evolution of an idea is not being carried from paragraph to paragraph before breaking off into a new idea. This is an art history book in the true sense of the word.

Symmons makes short work of many of the Goya legends, and she brings up the usual debates (the Duchess of Alba) with a succinct explanation of the background. Her attitude seems to be one of some sympathy for Goya, although she attempts a neutral position while still declaring Goya a genius: maybe that is the neutral position. The Spanish painter is a touchstone for so much of modern art that when Symmons takes us on her fascinating "Tribute of Posterity" near the end of this volume, she handles it without bogging down into existentialism while all the same describing the existential concerns that modern artists (and art critics & historians) find to be such a magnet with in Goya.

"The disturbing enigma of Goya's vision, the hint of threats from an unknown source and the conjuring up of indefinable states of mind made him the inspiration for nineteenth-century masterpieces depicting anxiety and fear." (page 319)

She is explaining an existential image without existentializing her text, in fact someone need not even be familiar with existential ideas to understand what she is saying. This seems very fitting since Goya comes to us from an age when the ideas he is now so often celebrated for did not even exist in a categorical way. One need only to be human to absorb the pathos of, say, The Third of May. And Symmon's book often presents Goya in just that manner.

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Goya Book

Eyewitness Art: Goya
Patricia Wright
64 page Hardcover
Published by Dorling Kindersley 1993
ISBN: 1564583333
"Reading level: Ages 9-12"

There is a 1999 edition of this work with a different cover. I do not know if the contents were revised from the earlier 1993 version. To see the current edition for sale, you can go to the DK books web site here or to here.

This is an excellent volume for children with serious interests in the fine arts. The reproduction quality is very good, and Wright's concise, short written notes provides a sort of illustrated timeline overview of Goya's work and life. Includes analysis and excerpts of Goya's private letters, "key" biographies, glossary of words, and a map showing the locations of museums and galleries owning at least five Goya paintings (I noticed that the USA National Gallery is not mentioned: they have more than five).

Although these DK books (in the Eyewitness Art series) are directed at a certain young age group, I have picked up the volume many times for reference. It covers so much in such a short "blurb" style that it's a handy reference tool. It also shows off the kind of analysis that is not easy to find elsewhere, for example pages 14 and 15 which break down Goya's "The Parasol" into picture elements, showing the color palette used and kinds of brush strokes.

The graphic design of the pages are not unlike that of a magazine in some way. It is crammed with text and imagery that utilizes all of the available space, and the photographs of unusual odds and ends (for example, page 17 has a foto of Goya's actual etching plate for Sebastian de Morra along with a copy of the print itself) is interesting and personable.

I wish there was an equivalent "adult" version of this kind of book that was as lively in it's design and images, though with a greater emphasis on written information. That is not a negative remark against the 64 pages making up Wright's book, rather a simple note of space limitations.

(below) The dust jacket flaps from the book

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Goya : Painter of Terrible Splendor
By Jeannine Baticle
(Discoveries Series)

Published by Harry N. Abrams,
April 1994
ISBN 0810928183
175 pages

This is a good, inexpensive volume for introducing Goya to those with a marginal interest or who are perhaps relatively young adult readers. The printing quality varies to sometimes too dark in the reproductions, but they are otherwise clear and sharp (though small - - the volume itself measures roughly 7" x 5").

There is a generous amount of addendum information which makes this slim book something of a Goya anthology reader. It includes copies of Goya letters and the cartoons he sometimes included.

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Goya Francisco: Los Caprichos (Dover Books, 1969)

Also contains out-takes and versions of the original set of etchings. Good introduction by Philip Hofer.
Goya, Francisco: Disasters Of War (Dover Publications, 1967)
This is in the same format, though a different size, as Dover's Caprichos edition. Like that, the reproduction quality is perhaps not perfect, but then it is drawn upon centuries old editions of Goya's etching plates. Includes informative introduction by Philip Hofer. Also the original introduction to the first printed edition.
Malraux, Andre. Saturn: An Essay On Goya. Phaidon, 1957 . 4to. 184pp.
This is a long, multi-part essay which discusses Goya as understood by novelist and critic Andre Malraux. He proposes many ideas, and brings up many questions, often in areas untouched by other volumes on Goya. The book is well illustrated, and assumes the reader is familiar with Goya and his work to a certain extent.
Schilderijen,Mayer, A. Hyatt : Goya, 67 Drawings (New York Graphic Society, 1974)
This is an excellent selection of Goya ink & brush pieces. The selection is taken from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are also other crayon, pencil and chalk drawings.
Milner, Frank: Goya (112 pages, Smithmark, 1995)
This oversize volume has clean and precise printing in the reproductions, though they sometimes are too dark and obscure a portion of a painting. The limitations of four-color printing are evident - however, overall an excellent volume and with its large size, quite eye-pleasing.

Myers, Bernard:
Goya (Spring Books, 1964)
This book is organized and printed in a style long out of vogue. The writing itself, by Mr. Myers, is well-suited toward the student, as it breaks up specific points and paintings in easy to assimilate groupings. The color printing is not at all acceptable by todays standards, in fact retouching by the production personal is evident on several paintings - altering significantly the painting itself.
Richard : The World of Goya (Time-Life Series, 1968)
This is a lightweight, though excellently organized, episode-and-topic overview of Goya and his work. Some of the reproductions are much too dark, but might be an artifact of 1960s era printing. Includes illustrated comparisons with other artists.
Wolf Reva: Goya And The Satirical Print In England And On The Continent, 1730 To 1850 (Godine, David R Publ Inc) (Special New, Trade Paper, Burnside)

This volume collects together a number of Goya's major prints, and compares their themes and techniques with the prints from other artists and their countries. Includes many illustrations of comparative art. Images are reproduced excellently.

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Thanks goes to the Alfred Knopf company for the review copy of Robert Hughes Goya they provided for this website.
Thanks goes to Abbeville Press for the review copy provided of Fred Licht's Goya book.

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