Goya – The Shooting

From Goya’s late style all trace of gaiety has vanished, and all sensuous delight in lovely textures. Bitter resentment has made him a savage, ironic satirist. The subjects are macabre, nightmarish or cynically witty. The expressions are of fear, hatred, or mirth that is grotesque and leering. The most fantastic of these pictures are merely drawn or etched in dark gray or brown ink, sometimes with touches of lurid color. Bodies are gray smudges and streaks against black night, producing sunken, grimacing features and twisted limbs. El Greco’s late, distorted style is exaggerated, in flat, broad, extremely simplified strokes. Saturn Devouring his Children (763), typical of this period, is all in black and white except for a streak of red blood. The ghastly light reveals a striking pattern of legs and fists clutching the child’s small vertical body. Compared to these, the nightmares of Bosch (in the Escorial near Madrid), or those of Felicien Rops, are child’s play.

The Shooting was made a few years earlier than most of these. It is less extreme in style, and a fully developed painting. Through being less obviously fantastic, it acquires an even greater power of stark, gripping terror. The colors are appropriate : drab grays and browns against a black, starless sky. It is lighted only by the glare of a lantern on a white shirt and a pool of crimson blood. There is no grace of line, or decorative pattern: only the contrast of one group killing and one being killed. The rhythm is jerky, stiff, staccato, of broad blunt limbs in V-shaped angles; of men on one side lunging in military unison, on the other in a mad confusion, sprawling, cowering, flinging out despairing arms, or clap-ping hands to eyes. A smudge of gray to show a mouth distorted, another to show one fallen open, a stubby clenched hand, two lines to show a sagging knee—each of these brief strokes tells the story of what is happening. This is terse illustration of the most economical and powerful kind. Inspiring it, and breathing through it, is passionate indignation at this event of 1808, and at what it stood for in the history of his country.