Goya "Images of Women" Exhibit in Washington DC
National Gallery of Art 2002
The first impression from seeing such a variety of Goya paintings gathered in one place is the enormity of many of these famous works. They fill whole walls and spill over into peripheral sight. Seeing (for example) The Grape Harvest in a book or catalog gives no projection of the largeness of it, the whole dominating physical size.
A secondary impression following the impact of dimension is the finish on many of these "official" works of Spain's court painter. There is a high, refined gloss over these images, with a great deal of attention given to balancing the focal center (typically a group of figures) against the hazier, softer background (usually a soft-focused landscape). Between the sheer size and the scope of minute attention given to all the elements in the painting, one comes away with an idea of Goya's energy and professional determination to excel in his office. Goya's ambitions aside, that he could complete such large pieces with such attention to quality gives a telling contrast to the ideas in his smaller, private paintings, which show a cruder, more immediate style.
And there is a very good selection of such works in the exhibit. There are a number of portraits, plus the loosely-themed personal works. The exhibit includes several rooms dedicated to etchings & drawings, with the selection of preliminary drawings for the etchings particularly interesting, since they do not show up in the usual Goya literature very often.
The catalog published for the exhibit is very well done, and the image reproduction good. The text includes much detail for each painting, and the though laced with editorial comments on various contemporary issues (e.g., the condition of women in Spain) it should serve as a good window into the mindset for future generations about those who put together this exhibit collection. Also, the current arguments about authorship on some disputed paintings is given brief explanation, and much of the reasoning in fashion toward explaining Goya's personality is also mentioned, without any heavy-handed psychiatry, which is good.
Seeing these paintings in the pseudo-mausoleum atmosphere of the National Gallery detracts a bit from the warmth in a good number of the images (and the tapestries, too, which in historical value help explain what exactly Goya was up to during the first half of his career), but on the whole the opportunity to see such a terrific collection of works in one place is quite an event, and the organizers must have had to do a great deal of work to mount it. Congratulations are due them for such a feat.
-Erik Weems, November 2002
West Building of the National Gallery of Art
March 10 through June 2, 2002
"From this headlong seizure of life we should not expect a calm and refined art, nor a reflective one. Yet Goya was more than a Nietzschean egoist riding roughshod over the world to assert his supermanhood. He was receptive to all shades of feeling, and it was his extreme sensitivity as well as his muscular temerity that actuated his assaults on the outrageous society of Spain." From Thomas Craven's essay on Goya from MEN OF ART (1931).
"...Loneliness has its limits, for Goya was not a prophet but a painter. If he had not been a painter his attitude to life would have found expression only in preaching or suicide." From Andre Malroux's essay in SATURN: AN ESSAY ON GOYA (1957).
"Goya is always a great artist, often a frightening one...light and shade play upon atrocious horrors." From Charles Baudelaire's essay on Goya from CURIOSITES ESTRANGERS (1842).
"[An] extraordinary mingling of hatred and compassion, despair and sardonic humour, realism and fantasy." From the foreword by Aldous Huxley to THE COMPLETE ETCHINGS OF GOYA (1962).
"His analysis in paint, chalk and ink of mass disaster and human frailty pointed to someone obsessed with the chaos of existence..." From the book on Goya by Sarah Symmons (1998).
"I cannot forgive you for admiring Goya...I find nothing in the least pleasing about his paintings or his etchings..." From a letter to (spanish) Duchess Colonna from the French writer Prosper Merimee (1869).