Last Days of Goya
By Thomas Craven,
from his book MEN OF ART,
Copyright©1931 Thomas Craven
More powerful by far is Goya, the peasant. He arrived on the scene nearly a century after the death of Philip's painter, lived beyond fourscore years, and throughout his long career, from the day when, as a child, he was discovered-so the story goes, by the village priest drawing with a lump of charcoal on the walls of Fuendetodos, to his exile in Bordeaux where, a dark old man, gouty and stone deaf, he drew from memory those great lithographs of the bull-ring, he drenched the decaying soul of Spain with a torrent of vitality. It was the time of Voltaire and Rousseau, of Byron and Shelley, of the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. When Goya was born, the whole of Europe, led by France, was preparing a battle-royal for the new freedom. He lived to see the battle fought and won, to see the Ancient Régime wiped off the earth. How much he contributed to the destruction of the old iniquity is debatable neither patriot nor reformer, he was at heart an anarchist and adventurer-but in the energy and range of his attack on art and in the vivid recklessness of his imagination and the invigorating assertiveness of his life, he was the forerunner of the new freedom in painting. After the debris of the Revolution had been cleared away and France had put her house in order, his example inflamed the courage of Géricault and Delacroix in their fight against the sham classicism of David; and as the rapid modern current hurried onward, he exerted, as much by his use of contemporary themes as by his method of painting, a powerful influence on Daumier, Courbet and Manet.
Spain was rotten in body and soul. There was no background of appreciation and no tradition of painting-only a shattered civilization, bankrupt mentally and physically, and in the aristocratic circles degraded by the imitation of French frivolity. Art was dead. Since Velasquez there had not been a name worth mentioning; the court painters, except Tiepolo, were cheap Italians or nondescript wastrels of Fragonard lineage. The morbid Hapsburgs disappeared for want of issue, and in their stead ruled the Bourbons of more active viciousness. Charles IV, a brawny, ursine scoundrel without character or intellect, divided his time between the, peasants of the field and the less robust lewdity of the court, brawling, gambling, and shooting rabbits. His wife, the harlot Queen, Maria Luisa, was the real sovereign, and the foulest woman in looks and habits alike, that ever wore a crown. Any young officer or groom was by royal decree only thus could she compel her servants into action-her bedfellow, and one of them, the most diligent, she appointed Prime Minister of Spain. The Bonaparte fiasco brought the rabid Ferdinand VII to the throne and upon the land new shedding of inquisitional blood. "Every heretic," announced this despicable boor, "shall have his tongue bored through with a red hot iron." Jesuit spies herded in their victims; the Holy Office worked night and day; and Spain sank into irredeemable lethargy and ruin.
Goya was part of all this, and a very conspicuous part: Goya of the bull-neck, the sensual lips and devastating eye; the father of some twenty legitimate children, sufficient evidence, I think, of the virility of the man of the soil which pallid duchesses preferred to the effete lechery of the aristocratic buzzards. But he differed from his rivals in another respect: he had an intellect, the only intellect in Spain. And when this intellect was finally silenced by a stroke of apoplexy, it had wrought the most comprehensive history of a period that has ever been written in graphic form, an inhuman comedy comparable to the system of Balzac. "One of his sketches," declares Gautier, "consisting of four touches of his graver in a cloud of aquatint, tells you more about the manners of the country than the longest description." As a historian of manners, he fulfilled one of the most useful offices of the artist, an office which so many painters, sequestered in the ivory towers of humanism, cautiously evade to protect their pretty dreams from the gross realities of life.
The past had no charms for Goya: a greedy participant in the crumbling violence of his time, he ransacked the soul of Spain of its mysteries and ignoble terrors, turning his experiences into works of art. If the ironic sisters had not given him the magic of the artist, he would not have grieved-art for its own sake did not appeal to his raging temperament-but would have won fame as insurrectionist or toreador, or any other strenuous profession calling for courage and decision.
Goya was not a religious force like Shelley, but a dare-devil and a libertine of Byronic cast. In many ways he bears a close resemblance to Byron: in his skeptical insolence, his antinomian looseness, his penchant for the brutal and obscene, his hatred of respectability, his physical excesses, and in his uncontrollable craving for new scenes and sharper excitements. Both were blackguards; both endowed with a talent for intrigue and a capacity for scandal; both overbearing egoists lacking in finer sensibilities. Like the Englishman, he was extraordinarily prolific, staking everything on the force of the first attack, working at top speed and guilty of many works that do him no credit. But Goya was more masculine, more genuine, and more profound than Byron. He was not a poseur; his hypochondria was an honest affliction and he did not advertise it; he took no interest in, and derived no perverse pleasure from the effect of his conduct on the world. Coming from the humblest stratum of society, and climbing to the top of his profession by brute strength and the audacity of genius, his struggle was long and hard, and if he portrayed the woes of the downtrodden in horrible symbols-foetuses, apes, cats and corpses-it is a truthful symbolism, truthful because he had been an underdog himself in Spain and had found the life abominable. But it cannot be said that he portrayed this life, or the high life of his later years, with any sympathy-the stamp of scorn lies upon everything he did. Life afforded him many experiences but few satisfactions, and it is fortunate for us that his energy found an outlet in art.
He was born in 1746, in Fuendetodos, a wretched mountain village of a hundred inhabitants, in a stone hut which, through the generosity of Zuloaga, is now a public museum. As a child he worked in the fields with his two brothers and his sister until his talent for drawing put an end to his misery. At the age of twelve he painted a curtain for the altar of the village church, and on his return to Fuendetodos, sixty years afterwards, found the church unchanged and the curtain still hanging. "Don't tell anyone I painted that," he said to one of his companions. At fourteen, supported by a wealthy patron, he went to Saragossa, about six leagues away, to study with a court painter, and here, in the capital of Aragon, foot-loose and free, he begins his picaresque journey through a disordered world. He did nothing by halves, feared nothing, had no self-respect, lived for himself alone. Confident from the first, he rushed from one department of art to another, learning readily but loathing the precious and sedentary aspects of the business. Not less boldly did he enter into the affairs of the crowded town. He had a fine singing voice, was an excellent swordsman, boxer and dancer, and a gang leader of parts. In a fight between his men and a rival faction, several combatants were murdered, and warned that the Holy Office was moved to action, he fled to Madrid. He was then in his nineteenth year.
Goya made himself known in Madrid but it was his ruffianly behavior and not his art that brought him before the public. A gangster again, the chief of the Aragonese colony, he frequented the bull-ring and consorted with roving thieves, and one morning was picked up out of the gutter with a dagger sticking in his back. A company of bull-fighters spirited him away to the coast and he took ship for Rome. How he subsisted in Rome is a mystery-probably by his wits and by the proceeds from Spanish scenes which he sold to the French residents with whom he associated as a free lance painter and man of the world. He painted only for profit in Italy and had no particular reverence for Italian art. But the life of Rome-the processions, the carnival, the prostitutes, the gay and dangerous underworld was a constant lash to his impulsive animalism, and he is credited with many foolhardy adventures, such as carving his name in the lantern of St. Peter's and entering a nunnery by night with the intention of abducting a young lady who had resisted his advances. But he was a Spaniard and a man of strong family affections, and two years later was home again, faced with the necessity of making a living and relieving the poverty of his father and mother.
He sought work immediately, submitting designs for the decoration of a church at Saragossa, received the commission, and executed it in six months. The decorations are not very impressive; first, because he was not a religious painter and could do little with ecclesiastical themes when not mocking the hypocrisies of the clergy; second, because his originality developed slowly, coming forward after he had discarded all the spurious influences of his erratic training. With a little money in hand, he married, in his twenty-ninth year, Josefa Bayeu, sister of a well-known painter. His wife remained at home, after the Spanish custom, in a state of chronic pregnancy, while Goya continued his old life among the Bohemians of Saragossa, the favorite of gypsies, dancing girls, musicians and matadors. Sad and exhausted, his wife bore a sickly brood of children, only one of the twenty, proponents of birth-control will be glad to know, reaching maturity. But despite his carousing irregularities among the Bohemians and his indulgences in the fast life of the court, Goya was a man of plain tastes, hating display and furnishing his house with peasant simplicity-even when he made large sums of money. He collected nothing, least of all pictures, and could not tolerate connoisseurship in art. He was addicted to the Spanish vice of over-eating, and this, together with his immoderate concentration on his work, rendered him, as early as his thirty-fourth year, subject to periods of ill-health and morose debilitation, during which he could do nothing but stay at home and play with the children.
Shortly after his marriage, having been recommended to the King by Mengs, the principal court painter, he was attached to the royal tapestry factory, and in the next four years, designed thirty cartoons for the King's weavers. With these he leaped into fame. Instead of falling back on the artificial languors of mythology, in the manner of the French imitators of Rubens, he boldly drew upon Spanish genre for his subjects-stilt-walkers, boys climbing trees and playing pelota, gallants and their wantons dining alfresco-things snatched out of his own experiences. At this distance we should say that his choice was the obvious one, but in his own generation, in a court dominated by imported vendors of the trappings of misunderstood classicism, it was an innovation that would have occurred to none but a parvenu-and a genius-like Goya. But it was not only the subjects that irritated his envious competitors: it was the unheralded decorative quality of the cartoons, the superb mixing of mass and silhouette into strangely oriental designs, the germs of which Goya's eagle eye might have detected in the Sassanian decorations of Spain. Though done with extreme rapidity, the tapestry series illustrates, for the first time, the electrical vitality which his brush imparted to everything that invited unforced attention, and which distinguishes his naked Maja from Velasquez's corpse of Venus.
Being famous, he made enemies. His tactlessness and insulting candor tried the patience of his closest friends. But neither whispered slurs on his character nor the political maneuvering of his rivals could check the momentum of his fame. As an artist there was no longer any doubt of his superiority; as a personality, he was dangerous and masterful, and hence irresistible to the voluptuous ladies of the court. He quarreled with his brother-in-law and with everyone who endeavored, however gently, to restrain his unceremonious tactics. The death of his father so depressed his spirits that he could not paint-and what is more remarkable, could not eat; and he sat alone in a bare room, etching plate after plate to allay his nervousness. He was besieged with commissions-portraits, altarpieces, and murals and unhesitatingly attempted anything that came his way. He moved to Madrid and was soon a boon companion of the King's brother, but Charles III could not stand him, and twice refused his petition for a court job. When he was forty years old, he was made President of the Academy, and when Charles IV ascended to the throne, he was without delay named as one of the King's painters.
Up to his thirty-seventh year, if we leave out of account the tapestry cartoons and five small pictures discovered by Professor Rothenstein, Goya painted nothing of any significance: but once in control of his refractory powers, as if to make amends for his late maturity, he produced masterpieces with the speed of Rubens. His court appointment was followed by a decade of incessant activity-years of painting and scandal, with intervals of bad health. At forty-two, surviving a terrible attack of indigestion, he had the face of a profligate old man, but he recovered his strength, and unchastened, went on with his intemperate habits. The most famous man in Spain, he disdained to run after anyone: the great ladies came to his studio - and got what they wanted. Duchesses quarreled over his favors, the victorious Alba, in all probability, posing for the two Majas in the Prado, in one, nude, in the other even more seductive in her thin, skin-tight breeches-Maja meaning gay lady, harlot or duchess, or both, there being little difference in Goya's time. The Spanish scholar, De Beruete, more interested in renovating the honor of an ancient and dishonorable family than in verifying the conquests of an upstart painter, discredits this likely bit of gossip, offering a mass of chronological data to remove one stain from the name of the godless Duchess. He may be right - but the chronology of Goya's intrigues is an inextricable affair.
We know for certain that the Duchess of Alba visited the artist's studio to be rouged, powdered and properly caressed; we know that she sent little remembrances to his family-delicacies delivered in dishes of silver, the dishes, according to etiquette, being presented as well as the contents, just as the hospitable Spaniard gives his house to his guest but does not expect his guest to take title; and we know that Mrs. Goya neglected to return the ancestral plate. We also know that the Duchess, determined to monopolize the painter, comported herself so brazenly that she was obliged, at the Queen's suggestion, to retire temporarily to her estate in Andalusia. Goya applied at once to the King for leave of absence, and the King, enjoying the sport and so filled with admiration of Goya's rapacious deeds that he would gladly have offered him the Queen, had his painter been equal to so unsightly a partner, willingly granted the request. The pair set out together for the South, but on a rough mountain road the carriage broke down with a sprung axle. Goya kindled a fire and with great strength forged the steel into shape again, but the heat and exertion brought on a chill which affected his ears and eventually led to total deafness. Life in Madrid was dull without him; the King needed him; and at the end of a year the Duchess was recalled.
Sick and exacerbated, Goya took up the needle and executed the first of his wonderful groups of etchings, Los Caprichos, in which the throne, the Church, the law and the army are held up to ridicule and satirized with contemptuous ferocity. In this series he exposes the weaknesses of women he had known and maliciously caricatures his evil friends. One plate containing a hideous figure, presumably the Queen, bears the title, She Says Yes to Anyone. The prints were sold on subscription to his wealthy admirers, many of whom, strange to relate, were the objects of his spleen. Why they should have paid for the exhibition of their crimes and vulgarities is a vexatious question anyhow, they liked it and clamored for more. Occasionally, in the annals of human audacity, we come across a man the brilliancy of whose sins and the magnitude of whose insolence excite the admiration of his compatriots, even though they be the victims of his wrath. Such men, as we say, get away with murder. Goya was one of these. But when he leveled his satire at the impostures of priests, the Church decided to call a halt, and the King hearing of vengeance, called in, or pretended to call in, the plates which, he said, "had been done at his command," thus saving the artist from the Inquisition.
In appreciation, Goya decorated the church of San Antonio de la Florida, situated on royal property near Madrid, "a coquettish little church with a white and gold interior, more like a boudoir than a shrine." He finished the undertaking in three months without assistance and without missing a day-ioo figures, all larger than life. The decorations are more suitable to a high-class brothel than to a place of worship. For angels he painted the comely strumpets of the court-his favorite Duchess among them-insidiously rouged; he painted naked children climbing over railings, ballet dancers, recognizable beauties stretching out their legs, and alluring women ogled by dandified men. Compared to the great murals of Italy, the frescoes are pretty flimsy-dazzling sketches of riotous characters rather than transformations of nature into monumental order. But in sheer liveliness, in spontaneous agility and careless animation, there is nothing in Italy, or in any other land, to compare with them. They are the gayest church decorations in art.
Returning the compliment, the King rewarded Goya with the coveted post of first court painter, gave him a seat in the royal coach, and talked with him in a language of signs and gestures. And the Queen, no less pleased, sent him a picture by Velasquez, the only painting, save his own, that he possessed. As the century closed, he entered into the period of his best portraiture: Doha Isabel Corbo de Porcel, the eyes of which are modeled (Manet, though a staunch supporter of Goya, regarded the modeling of the eye as the lowest of pictorial crimes); the Portrait of His Wife, which will stand up with the late Rembrandt's; The Family of Charles IV, characterized once for all by Gautier as the grocer's family who have won the big lottery prize."
The Duchess of Alba died in 1802 - "before her beauty had faded"; his wife died in 1804, exhausted and forlorn; his son was a weakling. Surly and unmanageable, Goya lived on, alone as much as possible, self-absorbed, painting because he could not help it, or perhaps because there was nothing better to do. But his work suffered no decline. In fact, it got better with years, as is usually the case with good painters. The French came and slaughtered the populace at the city gate. He painted the massacre-with a spoon it is said-and bequeathed to man kind, not the most tragic nor the most touching commentary, but the most frightening curse ever uttered against the horrors of war. The ragged, cowardly populace frozen with fears of death; men with their hands sticking up; men hiding their faces, clenching their fists; dead bodies in pools of blood-impotent civilians before a firing squad. A picture which should be reproduced in full color and hung in the council chambers of the war lords of every nation.
Yet Goya, with the curious turncoat soul of the artist, caring not whom he painted for so long as he was free to paint, welcomed the Bonaparte's and clung to his office at the court. When the scene shifted again, restoring the Bourbons and all the tortures of the Inquisition, he took the oath of allegiance to the new King without a qualm. "You deserve exile," Ferdinand told him. "You deserve hanging, but you are an artist, and I will forget everything." But he felt that he was not wanted at the new court and his etchings on the calamities of war hardly confirmed his avowed loyalty to the King. Despite his failing health, he journeyed to Sevilla to paint in the Cathedral there, and in his sardonic fury, used as models for angels two celebrated demimondaines. "I will cause the faithful to worship vice," he said, as if he had played a great joke on the church.
In Madrid again, in 1818, he withdrew to a house on the outskirts of the city. To amuse himself he decorated his dining room with gigantic fancies, one of them, now in the Prado, representing Saturn devouring his children. This, however, was not the conception of a disordered mind; his head was as clear as ever and his hand as steady. Here he etched his thirty-three plates on the bull-ring, and painted many portraits. In his seventy eighth year, he obtained permission from the King to visit France, and traveled for two weeks in a stage coach, in the burning Spanish summer. He arrived in Paris eager to see the world, but he was too old and rheumatic to enjoy Paris. He made the rounds of the studios, applauded Garicault and Delacroix, invariably praised the art that was destined to last, and then bade farewell to the young Frenchmen and went to Bordeaux.
Goya was a character in Bordeaux as he hobbled about the town, half-blind and deaf, always wearing his huge Bolivar hat, and attended by a little girl, a distant cousin for whom he predicted a distinguished future as an artist. (His protege turned out to be a poor copyist in the Prado.) He continued to work, painting with rags and brooms, drawing on stone, and on everything within reach. "I lack strength and sight," he remarked, "but I have an abundance of good will. I shall live to be ninety nine like Titian." He journeyed back to Madrid again, had his leave extended, and returned to Bordeaux to die, in his eighty third year.
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. And when ill-health forced him into quiescence, he brooded long and deeply over his art, and in such strange interludes, accomplished his best work-his etchings. Classicism, humanism, academic erudition, he ridiculed with a devil's sneer. "My masters are Velasquez, Rembrandt and Nature," he said. From the first he learned how to use his eyes; from the second, his head; and die third, he maintained, "was a much better guide than Raphael." Nature, not culture, supplied the materials for his art.
"The professors," he said, "are always talking about lines and never about masses. But where does one see lines? I find that neither lines nor colors exist in nature-only light and shade. I see only illuminated bodies, planes in relief and planes in recession, projections and hollows. I will paint your portrait with a piece of charcoal."
These remarks notwithstanding, he wields a mighty line, and in his etchings demonstrates a draughtsmanship of the first rank. In paint, like Velasquez, he is more or less dependent on the model, but not in the detached fashion of the expert in still-life. When the sitter does not interest him, he knocks off a likeness as swiftly as possible, and if the likeness is literal, or the handling slovenly, he refuses to worry. But when the subject appeals to him, the results are astounding, not only as psychological studies, but as carriers of his own ideas of mankind. Of all painters dealing so directly with the facts of life-with celebrities and obscure wretches, mountebanks, scenes of violence and persecution-he maintains the most perfect interaction between the circumstances he depicts and the effects of those circumstances upon himself-introduces us to a person or a scene, shows us what the object or event does to him, and then in turn, what lie does to the object as a thinking artist. Thus his art becomes more than the graphic record of actualities.
If a woman is ugly, he makes her a despicable horror; if she is alluring, he dramatizes her charms, giving her feral eyes, a piercing wanton glance, and a figure that swells amorously to fill her flimsy clothing; Charles IV and his family are a beastly lot - he does not spare them; he loves children and paints them from unlimited paternal experience-with wise, tender, credulous faces, and firm small bodies suggesting the round belly of the child, and tapering down to delicate feet and ankles. He prefers to finish his portraits at one sitting and is a tyrant with his models. Like Velasquez, he concentrates on faces, but he draws his heads cunningly, and constructs them out of tones of transparent greys. The costumes are composed of summary patches of broken colors, sometimes - in Charles IV and His Family, for example-in very high colors. Mean faces, cruel, hideous, tragical, seductive faces, all Spanish and all instinct with life. "Vitality!" he cries. "Ideal proportions and classic beauty be damned!" And in all these faces we read not only the soul of Spain but the unconsenting scornful soul of Goya himself. He scours every layer of society for his faces, and yet they all belong to the same family. He transforms his models into creatures of an imaginary world. They haunt him and turn upon him, and he begins to visualize Spain as a nightmare of his own creating. In his old age, the medium of paint-the colored earth in which he must embody his imaginings-infuriates him: his hand and eye can no longer obey the unbroken will. In the end, "the dream of reason," he tells us, "produces monsters."
Monstrous forms inhabit his black-and-white world: fiends with bat's wings; great birds croaking and flapping over the earth; a colossus sitting on a mountain top; animals performing like silly humans, as in Swift; shrivelled naked idiots huddled among bags of gold; grinning giants dancing ponderously. A corpse rising out of a grave leans on its elbow and writes, with a bony finger on a piece of paper, the artist's black agnosticism in one word-Nada-or nothingness. These are his most profoundly deliberated productions. They were not done in mad haste, as were most of his oils, but from closely reasoned studies in red chalk. Unfortunately in reproduction, owing to the worn condition of the plates, the cutting effectiveness of the original designs is not fully conveyed. Writing in the catalogue to Los Caprichos Goya says:
"Painting, like poetry, selects from the universe the material she can best use for her own ends. She unites and concentrates in one fantastic figure circumstances and characters which nature has distributed among a number of individuals. Thanks to the wise and ingenious combination, the artist deserves the title of inventor and ceases to be a mere subordinate copyist."
This, I think, is all that need be said of the personal allusions hidden within the etchings. Much time and ingenuity have been wasted in the attempt to uncover specific references and to identify the objects of satire with Goya's friends or enemies. Unquestionably some of the plates were made to satisfy the artist's private malice, but the slanderous elements no longer interest us. The satire still burns, and we cannot escape it. Nor should we try to escape it. It burns so fiercely that Ruskin, aghast that an artist should use his great gifts to scathe the world, is said to have destroyed a set of reproductions of the Caprichos presented to him, I daresay, by some one with a sense of humor. Within the compass of a small piece of copper, Goya focuses his choleric antipathies, his understanding of evil, his universal scorn; in one small ghost story he exposes the superstitious rubbish of Old Spain. Not a single plate that is tranquil, tolerant, or good-humored! He weaves his angry spirit into lines that "live and give life"; into attitudes that quail and sag and die; into masses that move and spin and shudder. His fantastic figures, as he calls them, fill us with a sense of ignoble joy, aggravate our devilish instincts and delight us with the uncharitable ecstasies of destruction. And all this neither wild nor disarrayed, but pressed into design as compact as a bullet!
His genius attains its highest point in his etchings on the horrors of war. When placed beside the work of Goya, other pictures of war pale into sentimental studies of cruelty. I do not believe that Goya should be called "the first deliberate opponent of militarism"; it is by no means certain that he disapproved of war as an institution; he had no sympathies with causes or movements, but instead, an insatiable curiosity in life and the energy to indulge it, and through his own hardships, a far-reaching knowledge of the feelings of the poor and of the cannon-fodder. He saw horrible things and his blood boiled, but in expressing his experiences, his purpose was not to show the iniquity of war but how men and women behave in circumstances of tragedy and suffering. And he shows it! He avoids the scattered action of the battlefield, and confines himself to isolated scenes of butchery. Nowhere else does he display such mastery of form and movement, such dramatic gestures and appalling effects of light and darkness. The body of a man dangles from a tree-lynched: we choke as the noose tightens round our own throats. A soldier, shot to death, raises his arms as he falls; we not only see the arms in one position, but feel the pull of the whole movement. A woman, clasping a naked baby against her hip, drives a lance into the groin of a uniformed brute: her lunging figure is composed of a few lines, but every line is a living nerve. And when we have recovered from the first shock, and look at these pictures more soberly' we can hardly believe our eyes. With the evidence before us, it does not seem possible that an artist, working so summarily, can call to life such vivid characters and such dreadful condensations of human misery.
Goya is perhaps the most approachable of painters. His art, like his life, is an open book. He concealed nothing from his contemporaries, and offered his art to them with the same frankness. The entrance to his world is not barricaded with technical difficulties. He proved that if a man has the capacity to live and multiply his experiences, to fight and work, he can produce great art without classical decorum and traditional respectability. In an age of unsurpassed sterility, he proved that a man of genius, single-handed and suspect, rising above all obstacles, can make himself the most feared and the most famous character of his times, even though he is an artist.
Thomas Craven was born in Salina, Kansas in 1888. He died in Boston, Massachusetts in 1969.
He was an art critic and art historian. Craven graduated from Kansas Wesleyan University in 1908 and moved to Paris to study art. When Craven returned to the United States he settled in Greenwich Village and became acquainted with the American realist artists working there.
He served in the U. S. Navy in World War I. Craven published his first book, Men of Art in 1931. A survey of painting in the Western world as embodied principally through the careers of a list of famous artists.
His papers are housed in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
"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).