Black Paintings

Excerpted from The Secret of the Black Paintings by Arthur Lubow
New York Times Magazine.
Copyright ©2003

The entire article at the NY Times is here.

“I started to read what has been written about the Black Paintings,’’ Junquera recalls in his small living room, crammed with books, bibelots and antique furniture, in the affluent Salamanca district of Madrid. ‘’I found that it was something impossible.’’ There are just two published sightings of the paintings by contemporaries of Goya. The first is the so-called Brugada inventory, compiled by Goya’s friend Antonio de Brugada, a liberal Spanish painter who for political reasons fled Spain for Bordeaux in 1823. In the inventory, which was putatively written in the 1820’s but not published until 1928, Brugada listed and recognizably described 15 paintings — one more than are now known — in the downstairs dining room and the salon above it. The second contemporary record of the Black Paintings is a magazine article published in 1838 by Valentin Carderera, an artist and collector, who recounted that in Goya’s country retreat ‘’there is hardly a wall that is not full of caricatures and works of fantasy, including the walls of the staircase."

The Brugada inventory and the Carderera account — that’s it. Except for two cursory appraisals by art specialists retained in the 1850’s when the house was placed on the market, there is not one further word in the literature about the Black Paintings until the French art scholar Charles Yriarte described them, with accompanying engraved reproductions, in a book about Goya that he published in Paris in 1867. The public did not get to see them until the Baron d’Erlanger purchased the house and retained a painter and restorer, Salvador Martinez Cubells, to remove them from the walls. The Black Paintings were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878 and then donated to the Prado. AND A scholar who relies primarily on a close examination of artworks bumps up against a serious obstacle in the Black Paintings. Everyone agrees that what we see today is at best a crude facsimile of what Goya painted. Nigel Glendinning, a professor emeritus at the University of London who has been writing about Goya for more than 40 years, did groundbreaking work on the probable arrangement of the paintings on the walls of the Quinta. Studying photographs by J. Laurent that are thought to date from the 1860’s, he has also compared what we see now with what existed before Martinez Cubells, in the 1870’s, hacked the pictures off the walls and attached them to canvas. ‘’It is not surprising that the restoration included extensive changes and a lot of repainting,’’ Glendinning says. X-ray examination reveals very different images under some of the Black Paintings, adding to the uncertainty. ‘’There is all kind of scope in regard to the Black Paintings for rather reserved judgment,’’ he remarks. ‘’But I believe Junquera is the first person to say in print they are not by Goya.’’ Although he hasn’t read the book, Glendinning responded vehemently to an article by Junquera in the April issue of Descubrir el Arte, a Madrid-based arts magazine. Junquera wrote the article to ‘’move things along,’’ because he was convinced that White, after meeting with Prado officials in March, had decided to delay or stop publication of his book. Both the publisher, Scala, and the Prado deny it. ‘’There was no intention of not publishing the book,’’ White says. Gabriele Finaldi, an associate director at the Prado, concurs: ‘’It’s absurd. I didn’t even suggest changing a comma.’’ In the magazine, Junquera abandoned all discretion and flatly announced that Goya could not have created the Black Paintings.

‘’I’m totally unconvinced by it, because I’ve read all the documents he is using,’’ Glendinning says. ‘’Inevitably, a lot of this is hypothetical, but his hypotheses don’t in the least convince me. My view would be that the documents don’t actually say whether the house had two stories or one.’’ The philological evidence regarding the Brugada inventory also underwhelms him: ‘’History of the language isn’t an exact science. What people do is find the earliest reference they can. People don’t go looking for these technical terms used for furniture.’’ While Glendinning agrees that the grand staircase in the Quinta was added after Goya’s death, he emphasizes that Carderera reports seeing wall paintings and that the earlier staircase presumably led to a second story. The missing testimony of Goya’s friends? They were mostly old men who died at about the same time he did. Junquera insists that Glendinning fails to understand the rustic nature of the Quinta and thinks that ‘’a country house in Spain is like a manor house in Surrey.’’ He says, dismissively, ‘’Glendinning knows nothing about the decoration of the 18th century.’’

Goya's the "Black Paintings"
Atropos (The Fates)

Fight with Cudgels

Two Women

Men Reading

Old Men


Old Men Eating


La Leocadia
Writings about the Black Paintings
The Black Paintings
De Salas on the Black Paintings
Lubow on the Black Paintings

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