Goya was a Titan among artists. He once boasted that “Nature, Velasquez, and Rembrandt are my masters.” It was an excellent self-criticism. He not only played the Velasquez gambit in his portraits, the gambit of Rembrandt in his sombre imaginative pieces, but he boldly annexed all Spain for his sinister and turbulent art. He was more truly Spanish in the range and variety of his performances than any Spanish-born painter since Velasquez. Without the sanity, solidity, nobility of Velasquez, whose vision and voice he never possessed; without the luscious sweetness of Murillo, whose sweetness he lacked, he had something of El Greco’s fierceness, and much of the vigour of Ribera. He added to these influences a temperament that was exuberant, fantastic, morose, and pessimistic yet humorous, sarcastic, some-times melting, and ever masterful. He reminds one of an overwhelming force. The man dominates the painter. A dozen comparisons force them-selves upon you when the name of Goya is pronounced: comets, cataracts, whirlwinds, and wild animals. Anarch and courtier, atheist and decor of churches, his ” whole art seems like a bullfight,” says Richard Muther. One might improve on this by calling him a subtle bull, a Hercules who had read Byron. “Nature, Velasquez, and Rembrandt!” cries MacColl in a too brief summary. “How inadequate the list! Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Legion had a hand in the teaching.”
Goya incarnated the renaissance of old Spain and its art. Spanish art has always come from without, for its foundations were northern and Flemish. The Van Eycks and Van der Weyden were studied closely; Jan Van Eyck visited Madrid.
The Venetian influence was strong, and El Greco his life long, and a pupil of Titian as he was, this gloomy painter with the awkward name of Theotocopoulo endeavoured to forget his master and became more Spanish than the Spanish. Ribera, emotional, dramatic, realistic, religious, could sound the chords of tenderness without the senti-mentalism of Murillo. Goya stems more from Caravaggio and Salvator Rosa than from any of his predecessors, except Velasquez. The presence of Tiepolo, the last of the Venetians, in Spain may have influenced him. Certainly Raphael Mengs, the “Saxon pedant,” did not Mengs associated with Tiepolo at Madrid. It is in company with the bravos of the brush, Caravaggio and Rosa, that Goya is closely affiliated. We must go to Gustave Courbet for a like violence of temperament; both men painted con furia; both were capable of debauches in work; Goya could have covered the walls of hell with diabolic frescoes. In music three men are of a like ilk: Berlioz, Paganini, Liszt. Demoniacal, charged with electric energy, was this trinity, and Goya could have made it a quartet.
But if Spain was not a country of original artists as was Italy, for example – she developed powerful and astounding individualities. Character is her leit motiv in the symphony of the nations. The rich virility and majestic seriousness of her men, their aptitudes for war, statesman-ship, and drama, are borne out in her national history. Perhaps the climate plays its part. Havelock Ellis thinks so. “The hard and violent effects, the sharp contrasts, the strong colours, the stained and dusky clouds, looking as if soaked in pigment, may well have affected the imagination of the artist,” he writes. Certainly the landscapes of Velasquez could not be more Spanish than they are; and, disagreeing with those who say that he had no feeling for nature, the bits of countryside and mountain Goya shows are truly peninsular in their sternness. It may be well to remark here that the softness of Tuscany is not to be found in the lean and often arid aspects of Spain. Spain, too, is romantic but after its own fashion. Goya revived the best traditions of his country’s art; he was the last of the great masters and the first of the moderns. Something neurotic, modern, disquieting, threads his work with devilish irregularity. He had not the massive temper of Velasquez, of those men who could paint day after day, year after year, until death knocked at their ateliers. As vigorous as Rubens in his sketches, Goya had not the steady, slow nerves of that master. He was very unequal. His life was as disorderly as Hals’s or Steen’s, but their saving phlegm was missing. In an eloquent passage somewhere in his English Literature – Taine speaks of the sanity of genius as instanced by Shakespeare. Genius narrowly escapes nowadays being a cerebral disorder, though there was Marlowe to set off Shakespeare’s serene spirit, and even of Michael Angelo’s mental health and morals his prime biographer, Parlagreco, does not speak in reassuring terms.
Goya was badly balanced, impulsive, easily angered, and not slow to obey the pull of his irritable motor centres when aroused. A knife was always within reach. He drove the Duke of Wellington from his presence because the inquisitive soldier asked too many questions while his portrait was being blocked out. A sword or a dagger did the business, but Wellington returned to the studio and, as Mr. Rothenstein tells us, the portrait was finished and is now at Strathfieldsaye. A sail guine is in the British Museum. His exploits in Rome may have been exaggerated, though he was quite capable of eloping with a nun from a convent, as is related, or going around the top of the Cecilia Metella tomb supported only by his thumbs. The agility and strength of Goya were notorious, though in a land where physical prowess is not the exception. He was picador, matador, banderillero by turns in the bull-ring After a stabbing affray he escaped in the disguise of a bullfighter.
If he was a dompteur of dames and cattle, he was the same before his canvas. Anything that came to hand served him as a brush, an old brown stick wrapped up in cloth, a spoon with the latter he executed that thrilling Massacre, May 2, 1808, in the Prado He could have painted with a sabre or on all fours. Reckless to the degree of insanity, he never feared king or devil, man or the Inquisition. The latter reached out for him, but he had disappeared, after suffering a dagger-thrust in the back. When on the very roof of his prosperity, he often slipped downstairs to the company of varlets and wenches; this friend of the Duchess of Alba seemed happier dicing, drinking, dancing in the suburbs with base-born people and gipsies. A genre painter, Goya delighted in depicting the volatile, joyous life of a now-vanished epoch. He was a historian of manner as well as of disordered souls, and an avowed foe of hypocrisy.
Not “poignantly genteel,” to use a Borrovian phrase, was he. Yet he could play the silken courtier with success. The Arabs say that “one who has been stung by a snake shivers at a string,” and perhaps the violence with which the painter attacked the religious may be set down to the score of his youthful fears and flights when the Inquisition was after him. He was a sort of Voltaire in black and white. The corruption of churchmen and court at this epoch seems almost incredible. Goya noted it with a boldness that meant but one thing – friends high in power. This was the case. He was admired by the king, Charles IV, and ad-mired who knows how much! by his queen, Marie Louise of Parma, Goya painted their portraits; also painted the portraits of the royal favourite and prime minister and Prince de la Paz, Manuel Godoy favourite of both king and queen. Him, Goya left in effigy for the scorn of generations to come. “A grocer’s family who have won the big lottery prize,” was the witty description of Théophile Gautier when he saw the picture of the royal family.
Curiously enough, this Goya, who from the first plucked success from its thorny setting, was soon forgotten, and until Gautier in 1840 recorded his impressions in his brilliant Voyage en Espagne, critical literature did not much concern itself with the versatile Spaniard. And Gautier’s sketch of a few pages still remains the most comprehensive estimate. From it all have been forced to borrow; Richard Muther in his briskly enthusiastic monograph and the section in his valuable History of Modern Painting; Charles Yriarte, Will Rothenstein, Lafond, Lefort, Condé de la Vinaza all have read Gautier to advantage. Valerian von Loga has devoted a study to the etchings, and Don Juan de la Rada has made a study of the frescoes in the church of San Antonio de la Florida; Carl Justi, Stirling Maxwell, C. G. Hartley should also be consulted. Yriarte is interesting, inasmuch as he deals with the apparition of Goya in Rome, an outlaw, but a blithe one, who, notebook in hand, went through the Trastevere district sketching with ferocious rapidity the attitudes and gestures of the vivacious population. A man after Stendhal’s heart, this Spaniard. And in view of his private life one is tempted to add and after the heart, too, of Casanova. Notwithstanding, he was an unrivalled interpreter of child-life. Some of his painted children are of a dazzling sweetness.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was born March 30 (or 31), 1746, at Fuentetodos, near Saragossa, Aragon. He died at Bordeaux, France, where he had gone for his health, April 16, 1828 Calvert, possibly by a pen slip, makes him expire a month earlier. He saw the beginnings of French romanticism, as he was himself a witness of the decadence of Spanish art. But his spirit has lived on in Manet and Zuloaga. Decadent he was, a romantic before French romanticism, he yet had borrowed from an earlier France. Some of his gay Fêtes Champêtres recall the influence of Watteau a Watteau without the sweet elegiac strain. He has been called a Spanish Hogarth not a happy simile. Hogarth preaches; Goya never; satirists both, Goya never deepened by a pen stroke the didactic side. His youth was not extraordinary in promise; his father and mother were poor peasants. The story of his discovery by a monk of Saragosela Father Felix Salvador of the Carthusian convent of Aula Dei is not missing. He studied with José Martinez. He ran away in 1766. He remained, say some, in Italy from 1769 to 1774; but in 1771 he appeared in Saragossa again, and the year 1772 saw him competing for the painting about to be undertaken in the cathedral. He married Josefa Bayeu, the sister of the court painter. He has told us what he thought of his jealous, intriguing brother-in-law in a portrait. In 1775 he was at Madrid. From 1776 he executed forty-six tapestry cartoons. In 1779 he presented to the king his etchings after Velasquez. His rise was rapid. He painted the queen, with her false teeth, false hair, and her infernal simper, and this portrait was acclaimed a masterpiece.
His religious frescoes, supposed to be ad majorem Dei gloriam, were really for the greater glory of Goya. They are something more than secular, often little short of blasphemous. That they were tolerated proves the cynical temper of his times. When the fat old scoundrel of a Bourbon king ran away with all his court and the pusillanimous Joseph Bonaparte came upon the scene, Goya swerved and went through the motions of loyalty, a thing that rather disturbs the admirers of the supposedly sturdy republican. But he was only marking time. He left a terrific arraignment of war and its horrors. Nor did he spare the French. Callot, Hell-Breughel, are outdone in these swift, ghastly memoranda of misery, barbarity, rapine, and ruin. The hypocrite Ferdinand VII was no sooner on the throne of his father than Goya, hat in hand but sneer on lip and twinkle in eye, approached him, and after some parleying was restored to royal favour. Goya declared that as an artist he was not personally concerned in the pranks of the whirligig politic. Nevertheless he was bitterly chagrined at the twist of events, and, an old man, he retired to his country house, where he etched and designed upon its walls startling fancies. He died disillusioned, and though nursed by some noble countrymen, his career seemed to illustrate that terrifying picture of his invention a skeleton lifts its gravestone and grinningly traces with bony finger in the dust the word Nada – Nothing! Overtaxed by the violence of his life and labours he left a prodigious amount of work behind him soured by satiety, all spleen and rage, he was a broken-down Lucifer, who had trailed his wings in the mud. But who shall pass judgment upon this unhappy man? Perhaps, as he saw the “glimmering square” grow less, the lament of Cardinal Wolsey may have come to a brain teeming with memories. Goya had always put his king before his God. But in his heart he loved the old romantic faith the faith that hovered in the background of his art. Goya is not the first son of his mother church who denied her from sheer perversity. What a nation! Cervantes and Lope da Vega, Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada – most glorious of her sex, saint and genius and Goya! Spain is the land of great and diverse personalities. But with Calderon we must now. say: “Let us to our ship, for here all is shadowy and unsettled.”
Goya, as Baudelaire pointed out more than half a century ago, executed his etchings by combining aquatint and the use of the dry point. A few years before his death he took up lithography, then a novelty. His Caprices, Proverbs, and Horrors of War may outlive his paintings. His colour scheme was not a wide one, blacks, reds, browns, and yellows often playing solo; but all modern impressionism may be seen on his canvases harsh dissonances, dots, dabs, spots, patches, heavy planes, strong rhythmic effects of lighting, heavy impasto, luminous atmosphere, air, sunshine, and vibrating movements; also the strangeness of his material Manet went to him a beginner. After studying the Maja desnuda at the Prado Museum he returned to France and painted the Olympe, once of the Luxembourg, now in the Louvre. The balcony scenes of Goya, with their manolas – old-fashioned grisettes must have stirred Manet; recall the Frenchman’s Balcony. And the bull-fights? Oh! what an iron-souled master was there Goya when he slashed a bull in the arena tormented by the human brutes! None of his successors matches him. The same is the case with that diverting, devilish, savoury, and obscene series he called Caprices. It is worth remembering that Delacroix was one of the first artists in Paris who secured a set of these rare plates. The witch’s sabbaths and the modern version of them, prostitution and its symbolism, filled the brain of Goya. He always shocks any but robust nerves with his hybrid creatures red in claw and foaming at mouth as they fight in midair, hideous and unnamable phantoms of the dark. His owls are theologians. The females he often shows make us turn aside our head and shudder. With implacable fidelity he displayed the reverse of war’s heroic shield. It is something more than hell.
Sattler, Charlet, Raffet, James Ensor, Rethel, De Groux, Rops, Eduard Munch (did you ever see his woman wooed by a skeleton?), and the rest of these delineators of the morbid and macabre acknowledge Goya as their progenitor. He must have been a devil-worshipper. He pictures the goat devil, horns and hoofs. Gautier compares him to E. T. W. Hoffmann Poe not being known in Paris at that time but it is a rather laboured comparison, for there was a profoundly human side to the Spaniard. His perception of reality was of the solidest. He had lived and loved and knew before Flaubert that if the god of the Romantics was an upholsterer the god of eighteenth-century Spain was an executioner. The professed lover of the Duchess of Alba, he painted her nude, and then, hearing that the Duke might not like the theme so handled, he painted her again, and clothed, but more insolently uncovered than before. At the Spanish museum in New York you may see another portrait of this bold beauty with the name of Goya scratched in the earth at her feet. Her attitude is characteristic of the intrigue, which all Madrid knew and approved. At home sat Mrs. Goya with her twenty children.
Goya was a man of striking appearance. Slender in youth, a graceful dancer, in middle life he had the wide shoulders and bull neck of an athlete. He was the terror of Madrilenan husbands. His voice had seductive charm. He could twang the guitar and fence like ten devils. A gamester, too. In a word, a figure out of the Renaissance, when the deed trod hard on the heels of the word. One of his self-portraits shows him in a Byronic collar, the brow finely proportioned, marked mobile features, sombre eyes the ideal Don Juan Tenorio to win the foolish heart of an Emma Bovary or a bored noblewoman. Another, with its savage eye it is a profile and big beaver head-covering, recalls Walt Whitman’s “I wear my hat as I please, indoors or out.” A giant egoist, and as human, all too human, a fellow as Spain ever begot, Goya is only hinted at in Baudelaire’s searching quatrain beginning: ” Goya, cauchemar plein de choses inconnues. ” Fleurs du Mal would be a happy title for the work of Francisco Goya if to The Flowers of Evil” were added “and Wisdom.” Goya is often cruel and lascivious and vulgar, but he is as great a philosopher as painter. And to offset his passionate gloom there are his visions of a golden Spain no longer in existence; happy, gorgeous of costume, the Spain of sudden coquetries, of fans, masques, bull-fights, and fandangos, of a people dancing on the rim of a fire-filled mountain, pious, capricious, child-like, romantic, and patriotic the Spain of the eighteenth century. Goya is its spokesman, as is Velasquez the mirror of Philip’s more spacious times. Velasquez Goya! poles asunder, yet both born to the artistic purple.