FROM the death of Velasquez, in 1661, more than a hundred years had elapsed when Goya made his debut in Madrid. He is the unexpected phenomenon of the Spanish School; coming as a surprise and even more surprising in the character of his art, since it anticipated by a hundred years an art-motive of our own times. Goya was the prophet of modern impressionism, and arrived upon the stage when the drama of Spanish painting seemed to have been played out.
For the great names of the seventeenth century had been succeeded by painters of inferior ability and the positions of favor at court were held by foreigners. The decline of painting had kept pace with national decline. Spain under the Bourbon dynasty reaped the whirlwind that had been sown by the Hapsburg. Trade and commerce had been reduced to nothing; and while a few noble families had grown rich the country was poor, even the Court being impoverished. The Church had sunk from its high estate, and, devoted to worldly ambitions, had lost the respect of the community. The national character was demoralised. The lower classes had become brutalised, while society was callous and the Court openly profligate. When Goya entered on his prime, the impotence of the King, Charles IV, had permitted the government to slip into the hands of the Queen’s favorite, the ex-guardsman, Manuel Godoy. He had been raised to the rank of Duke of Alcudia and made prime minister of the realm. For bringing to conclusion a war with France in which he had needlessly engaged, he ostentatiously assumed the title of the “Prince of Peace.” It has been related in a previous chapter how he ratted to Napoleon and favored the design to place Joseph Bonaparte on the throne of Spain, thereby subjecting Spain to the horrors of a French invasion under Murat and to the prolonged distress of the Peninsular war.
Symptomatic of the moral atmosphere of the Court is an anecdote mentioned in Doblado’s Letters. The King, surrounded by members of his household, was gazing from a window of the palace, when Mallo, who happened to be then first favorite with the Queen, drove by, handling a fine team of horses. “I wonder,” said the King, “how the fellow can afford to keep better horses than I can?” “The scandal goes, Sir,” replied Godoy, “that he is himself kept by an ugly old woman whose name I have forgotten.”
On to the stage of this shabby comedy of court life, set with the scenery of a nation’s humiliation, Goya entered and made an immediate hit. A man of violent passions, without conscience or scruples, he played his part as if all the characteristics of his contemporaries were represented in himself. He has left a self-portrait, painted some seven years after his appearance on the scene. It now hangs in the Prado and might be mistaken for the portrait of a bull-fighter. Indeed, it reminds us that at one period of his young days Goya became efficient in the bull-ring. The neck is short and thick; the mouth fleshy and sensual; the nose broad; the cheeks large and heavily modeled; the cushioned brows indicate a hot, quick sensibility ; there is a general suggestion of abounding animal force. Only the eyes, deep set and brilliant, proclaim the man’s mentality. It is the face of a peasant, which in his origin Goya had been.
His father was a small farmer in the village of Fuentedetodos in Aragon, where Goya was born in 1746. Bred hardily and possessed of great physical strength, the boy asserted his independence early and, determining to be an artist, sought instruction from a painter in Zaragoza. Here he soon gained notoriety for his escapades and was distinguished among his fellow students for his daring and his skill in the use of rapier and dagger. Finally he was wounded in some broil and hidden away by his friends to escape the clutches of the Inquisition, whose attention had been called to the affair. Accordingly, after his recovery Goya found it convenient to leave Zaragoza. He made his way to Rome, where he stayed for several years, indulging his appetite for adventure and intrigue on a larger scale. He again fell foul of the Inquisition, through an attempt to re-move a young lady from a convent and would have fared ill, but for the intervention of the Spanish ambassador, who promised to see that the offending artist returned to Spain. So in 1769, Goya arrived in Madrid. Shortly after his appearance in the capital Goya married the daughter of the painter, Francisco Bayeu. She must have been a lady of exceptional forbearance, since she remained true to him notwithstanding his frequent amours and presented him with twenty children.
Bayeu introduced his son-in-law to Raphael Mengs, who was in the height of favor at Court. This German painter, who had been invited to Spain by Charles III, owed his European reputation to his servile imitation of his namesake, Raphael. He was a facile, academic mannerist; drawing inspiration for his subjects from the Classics and rendering them with a purity of style that was absolutely bloodless. He was, however, sufficiently large-minded to discover value in the young Goya. The King had requested his Court painter to make an effort to revive the Royal Tapestry Works of Santa Barbara, and Mengs was engaging painters to execute designs. He gave a series to Goya, who prepared the cartoons which are now in the Prado. Some of them were executed in the weave and can be seen in a room of the Escorial, adjoining another, decorated with tapestries after designs by Teniers. The latter’s example may have influenced Goya in his choice of subjects, for he took the theme of popular pastimes and treated them naturalistically. The significance of this lies in its contrast to the conditions then existing. For the tapestries which were a la mode at that time both in France and Spain were the Boucher designs, in which little court gentlemen and ladies play at being shepherds and milk-maids, and indulge in pretty travesties of country life, under conditions of an impossible and ridiculous age of innocence. As we come to know Goya we are not surprised that this view of art had no interest for him. We find him to have been from boyhood an eager liver, interested to the full in life; so we do not now share the surprise that his contemporaries must have felt when they saw these cartoons. To a society accustomed to an art of academic imitation and rococo lackadaisicalness, they may well have been a shock. They seem also to have come as a welcome relief, for they made Goya popular; moreover they established for him a character of being independent, of which he subsequently took full advantage.
The color schemes of these designs are noteworthy. While the Teniers tapestries are based on a very naive use of the primary colors, red, blue and yellow, and the Boucher on a subtle use of the same, in which the sharpness of the hues is silvered dawn to demi-tints, the Goya introduce the secondary colors. They involve the red, yellow and blue, but merely as flashes of brilliance in a groundwork of plum-color, purple, dull brown-red, deep orange and blue, and rich greens, enlivened with white and velvety black. The schemes are intricate, varied, and above all, positive; the work of an artist with an original, if still unmatured, sense of color. Goya, in-deed, proclaimed in this early work the fact that he was a colorist; although, as yet, there is little suggestion of the kind of colorist he was going to prove himself.
Following these cartoons came several commissions to provide decorative paintings for churches. Goya executed them in the spirit of popular genre that inspired the cartoons. Not only had he no religious feeling; he was bitterly and openly opposed to the Church, and in these pictures of saintly legends was at no pains to simulate a reverence that he did not feel. To this period also belongs the Portrait of Charles III of the Prado, which shows him in the costume of a huntsman, an angular figure with a genial but homely face. It is painted with uncompromising naturalness; the contours as hard and bald as the coloring; a picture separated from the Goya that we later know by a wide gap. The fact seems to be that in this portrait Goya was painting simply what he saw; and since the original was a man of commonplace exterior and Goya himself viewed him in a perfectly commonplace way he produced this astonishingly common-looking picture. It was necessary for Goya to discover some refinement in his own point of view, before he could develop his best artistic possibilities. The gradual steps by which he reached this goal I do not profess to know; but a few years later, when he had been established as Court painter to the new king, Charles IV, the true Goya is discovered. His new style, the result of a new way of viewing his subject, is fully developed in the group portrait of Charles IV and the Royal Family.
We will postpone consideration of Goya’s mental attitude toward these royal puppets. That is part of his general outlook upon life, as a satirist and castigator of follies. It is his attitude toward his art which concerns us for the moment. The reproduction of this picture gives little but a limited idea of its artistic beauty, but it brings out the lack of human interest in, at least, the principal personages and the necessary stiffness of this arrangement of the figures. It will be noticed, however, that Goya has drawn the straggling items into some degree of unity by enveloping the lower part of the end groups in half-shadow. The eye is thus led to concentrate on the center of the composition. Here for an instant our attention may be occupied by the ungainly attitude of the Queen, and the forbidding expression of her face, turned, as in her other portraits by Goya, in one direction, while her eyes seek another. But it is only for an instant. Then we are attracted by the jewels in her dark hair and on her bosom, and by the exquisiteness of the costumea fall of Chinese silk, mandarin blue, embroidered in white and gold, over a white lace skirt. Next our gaze may wander to the similar dresses worn by the princesses on her right, which however represent subtle variations of effect through the more or less of shadow in which they are veiled; and then to the king’s rose-embroidered vest, the pale blue and white watered silk ribbon, and the stars and jewels which cluster on the plum-colored velvet coat. So gradually one becomes conscious of the loveliness of color that permeates the whole group, a bouquet of mingled quietude and brilliance, of low tones and sparkling keys, which one can enjoy with as complete a detachment from any thought of the figures, as if they were a parterre of flowers.
In fact, there is revealed here a colorist of extraordinary refinement and subtlety; and of an imagination that is rare among painters. Goya’s original fondness for varied and positive colors has matured into a mastery over a few hues, treated with exquisite nuances. And the secret of this marvelous color-expression is the artist’s new way of looking at his subject. He has become an impressionist in the modern sense. He stands forth, indeed, as the first of modern impressionists, the fore-runner by nearly a hundred years of the principal art-motive of the nineteenth century.
Goya used to say that his only teachers had been Velasquez, Rembrandt and Nature. It was from the first named that he learned to paint, not the subject in front of him but the impression he had formed of it; and in this he may have been assisted by Rembrandt’s use of chiaroscuro to eliminate by shadow the unessentials and to heighten the saliencies by light. Yet it is difficult Ito understand how Goya could have had many opportunities of studying Rembrandt, since there is only a single example in the Prado, and the Dutch masters were not favored in Spain. Accordingly one is disposed to give Goya fuller credit for discovering his own way of rendering his impressions. As it is exhibited in this portrait group, it reveals an imagination that heightens the suggestion of beauty in the thing recorded, and an extraordinary gift of improvisation in handling passages of intricate detail and rendering the effect of an ensemble. There is no such maze of luxuriant loveliness as this in any picture by Velasquez ; the nearest approach to it being, perhaps, the breast of the little Don Carlos on horseback. The Goya represents a more feminine sensitiveness; it is impregnated with temperament. This is the quality of Goya’s impressionism which makes it modern. Velasquez’s is impersonally objective; modern impressionism, like Goya’s, is naturalism viewed through temperament; it shapes and colors the record to the artist’s mood.
This is at once its weakness and its strength; a source of power when the mood is high and spontaneous, of weakness when the mood is slack or directly unsympathetic. Under the latter conditions Goya not infrequently turned out pictures in which spontaneity and imagination are absent, and the result is wooden, ineffective. Still oftener his faces are lacking in expression and in subtlety of modeling; while his hands, though one has heard them praised, are seldom expressive in modeling or in gesture. It was the tout-ensemble that interested him and in this the costumes play a very important part and are usually handled with incomparable mastery.
Two beautiful examples of his ability to encompass the spirit of a subject are the pair of canvases, representing a Maia, or girl of the people, in the one case nude, in the other clothed. In both the sofa is upholstered in green velvet, spread with silvery white draperies and cushions. But, in the case of the nude, the green is cool and bluish; in the other, a warmer apple-green to harmonise with the costume. The latter consists of a bolero jacket of mustard color with black and white lace trimmings, a white gown, shaded with tones of dove-grey and lavender, a sash of silvery hue, suffused with claret, and yellow Turkish slippers. The black network is laid on crisply and roughly, thus helping to set off the smoothness of the technique in the face, which has warm red cheeks and brown eyes. On the other hand, in the Maia Nude, the coloring throughout is cooler; a more delicate rose in the face, a faintly oxidised silver shadow under the chin and over the bosom; and similar shadows of inexpressible subtlety over other portions of the body. The flesh is cream with the faintest suggestion of rose; and yet not cream, for it seems to be veritable flesh. But, although this nude is painted with a naturalism that could scarcely be exceeded, the web of evanescent shadow in which it is clothed invests the nudity with a veil of ideal-ism. These shadows, absolutely indescribable in their delicacy, are the result of a most perfect sense of values and of a technique as sure as it is facile. They are the despair of painters who try to copy the picture. Goya, in fact, in these two canvases, particularly in the nude, has caught the volatile essence of young femininity; has succeeded, as it were, in painting the fragrance of the flower.
Another kind of femininity, more matured, he has represented in the Andalusian beauty, Dona Isabel Corbo de Porcel, of the National Gallery. Here the technique, as befits the impression, is more brusque and vivacious. But in another example in the same Gallery, Portrait of Dr. Peral, Goya has adapted to the refinement of his subject a color-scheme and technique of unsurpassable delicacy. The features, pale pink, shaded with grey, are set in a frame of long whitish yellow hair; the coat is greyish drab, the vest pearly grey with green sprigs, the figure being placed against a dark olive-black background. The expression of the whole is of a man of rare cultivation and fine mental poise. The scheme of color recalls the Portrait of Francisco Bayeu, in the Prado, except that, in the latter, silvery blue is substituted for the green; this note of color appearing in the sash.
By the time that Goya reached his maturity the range of his palette was reduced to very restricted limits: blue, white, black, vermilion, some of the ochres and burnt sienna. And his tools were correspondingly meagre. Brushes of the rudest make served his purpose; or he would use a sponge or stick, securing some of his subtlest effects with the ball of his thumb. From several unfinished bust-portraits in the Prado it appears that he worked over an under-surface of orange-red; which no doubt accounts for the warmth and fulness of his greys. On the other hand, the subtlety which he succeeded in giving to all his local colors, laid on as they were in simple flat tones, is the result of a profoundly sensitive feeling for values. Goya’s rendering of the varying qualities of light, as they affect the hue of a surface, is different from Velasquez’s. With the latter, if one may state it briefly, it is rather the product of observation; with Goya, of feeling. Therefore, it is largely influenced by temperament, which makes it akin to the modern handling of values. In this, as in the character of his impression, Goya is a modern of the moderns.
It is interesting to compare Goya’s equestrian portraits with those of Velasquez. Goya’s best, in the Prado, are those of the King and Queen. Perhaps the most noticeable difference appears in the treatment of the horses. Velasquez, as we have seen, gave to each of his animals an individual character and action, suitable also to the character and psychology of the rider. A spirited small creature bears the little Don Carlos; a showy, powerful brute the swaggering Olivares; a beast, trained in stately menage, the proud and reserved king. With Goya, however, there is little apparent study of the structure or character of the animal; it is felt for its value as a handsome mass. And the rider’s figure seems to have been felt in the same way; as if by emphasising its mass the artist could evade the inevitable common-place of the face. Accordingly, in the case of the Queen, the impression we receive is of a black beaver hat with scarlet cockade, scarlet revers and silver braid on a black habit; black trousers against the deep green and gold of the pummel and saddle-cloth, and of a red-bay horse with darker tail; the whole forming a striking silhouette against a dull drab sky that deepens to slaty grey on the right, and a tawny, pale green landscape fading toward the horizon to silver buffs and olive. Similarly, the King’s portrait suggests the effect of a handsome silhouette, which culminates in a blaze of splendor amid the decorations that cover the rider’s breast. This is artfully balanced by the brilliantly white chest of the horse and by a paler white light in one part of the sky. Both these portraits, in fact, are primarily color-impressions. It is as if Goya had taken refuge in this point of view, in order to get over the difficulty of adjusting two such undignified personages to the monumental feeling of a large equestrian portrait. It was a case in which he tried to keep in control his feelings as a satirist.
For Goya’s role at Court was that of an audacious satirist, censor and chastiser of the follies and iniquities of his day. He was allowed a free hand, for his gallantry endeared him to the Iadies and his prowess as a fighter made him feared by the men, while all, except the immediate victim, could enjoy the adroitness and daring of his humor. His particular bete noir was Godoy, whom he mercilessly satirised. He would amuse the idle moments of the Court by sprinkling the contents of a sandbox on the writing table, and drawing with his finger caricatures of the minister. On one occasion he appeared at some function during a period of Court mourning and was refused admission by the ushers, because he was wearing white stockings. He retired to an ante-room and with pen and ink relieved their whiteness with funereal caricatures of Godoy. Among the amours in which he indulged was one with the young Duchess of Alba, who returned his passion. Their liaison aroused the jealousy of the Queen, who banished the Duchess to her country home. When Goya learned of it he pursued his inamorata in hot haste and caught her up on the road, for an axle of her carriage had broken. There being no smithy near, he himself lit a fire and repaired the damage. The exertion was succeeded by a chill, which induced the first symptoms of the deafness that in later life became complete. Meanwhile, the Court could not do without its Goya, and as he would not return without his Duchess, she too was recalled.
But Goya was far from being a mere buffoon and galliard. Although his passionate nature with its streak of coarseness made him at home in the petty intrigues of the court, he was a part of the wide-spread revolutionary spirit of his day. While Europe, and particularly France, was seething with the yeast of unrest, this solitary figure, far off in Spain, was already in revolt. In his denunciation of the hypocrisy and vice of his age, as exhibited alike in the Church, Society and the middle and lower classes, he was a Voltaire and Robespierre in one, brandishing the torch that subsequently kindled the French revolution. In this, as in his technique, he was ahead of his age. Meanwhile, the mental attitude which inspired him was characteristically Spanish : by turns grim and gay, humorous and deadly serious, coarse, sensual and cruel. In two series of etchings, Caprichos (Whims) and Proverbios (Proverbs), the scourge of his satire bit into the plates with a virulence of scorn and nakedness of exposure that have never been surpassed and, before his day, had never been attempted by an artist. In one of his etchings, a dead man has returned to life and is writing with his finger on the wall nadanothing. Goya was a nihilist, bit-ter therefore against quacks and empirics, whether priests, doctors or lawyers. Also he laid bare the emptiness and horror of passion, a hashish that beguiles forgetfulness and leads to impotence and nothingness.
This idea of the nothingness of life in general, and of passion in particular is expressed with Goya’s characteristic ferocity and lust of the horrible in The Fates (p. 182). Midway between earth and sky three female figures are floating, their lower limbs entwined so as to form a cradle, on which, with hands bound behind his back and his legs screwed up to maintain a precarious balance, sits Man. Meanwhile, the crone on the left; a harridan of the slums, clenches in her fist a pigmy figure, whose hands are stretched in vain supplication to a darkened sky. Such is the beginning of Man’s destiny; to discover the development of which another crone is peering through a spy-glass. The third Fate, nude, younger and of opulent form, turns her face to a lurid glare in the sky. Watching till the light fades, she holds the scissors which will cut the thread and precipitate Man, sated with passion, into the waters below.
This colossal travesty of life, as nothing but inchoate, chaotic, brute nature, swayed by elemental lust, is painted with such amazing brutality, that the pigments seem as if they might have been laid on with a trowel. The crudity is intentional, producing a texture that fits the monstrous irony of the conception. Moreover, before this picture one loses sense of color, as consisting of specific hues. It is, in fact, an apt illustration of Goya’s own paradox, that color does not exist, that everything is light and shade of varying values. While one may discover the application of this principle in the meagre range of color, manipulated with nuances of value, which distinguishes all the canvases of Goya’s maturity, it is particularly evident in his subjects of grotesque and violent imagination such as The Fates. Another example, selected for reproduction here (p. 189), is The Scene of May 3, 1808. The citizens captured by Murat’s troops, in the riot of the previous night, are being shot down in batches; the incident taking place in the grounds of the palace of the “Prince of Peace” !
The dull drab grey of early morning hangs over the scene and seems to have impregnated the uniforms of the soldiers and the clothes of their scared, hopeless victims. But the dead monotony is rent with a shriek, shrilling out in the clear, cold notes of the white shirt of the poor wretch whose arms are raised, in the yellow breeches and the crimson pool of blood. It is a remarkable example of color used solely for the purpose of expression; a use most characteristic of Goya, to which we will return later.
In the troubles which overtook Spain, Goya proved himself neither patriot nor hero. He swore allegiance to Joseph Bonaparte and utilised the sufferings of his country for a series of etchings, The Disasters of War, in which the horrors of the military invasion are depicted with unexampled force and naturalism. After Wellington had expelled the French, Goya again played the part of opportunist and pledged his fealty to Ferdinand VII. The King, remarking that Goya’s conduct deserved hanging but that he was a great artist and should be forgiven, restored him to his position of Court Painter. Goya, however, was beginning to de-cline. His deafness had grown upon him and with it a moroseness and irritability of temper, which made him shun society and bury himself in his country house. His deafness even denied him the solace of his favorite amusement, playing on the piano. His wife was dead, and the sole object of the old man’s affection was his little grandson, Mariano, whose face he has commemorated in the portrait, now owned in Madrid by the Marques de Alcanices.
Goya at length obtained the King’s permission to visit France. He spent some time in Paris, where he was welcomed by Delacroix and the younger spirits of the French romantic movement. He then settled in Bordeaux, tended and cared for by an old friend, Madame Weiss. During this period he executed a few portraits and the lithographs, Les Taureaux de Bordeaux, in which his old time vigor is displayed. When the term of his leave of absence had expired, he revisited Madrid and was received by the King and people with marks of the highest respect and consideration. Goya was now in his eighty-second year, and returned to Bordeaux, where he lingered a few months and died in the Spring of 1828. Seventy-one years later his remains were re-moved from the cemetery of Bordeaux and interred with honors in Madrid. For by this time Goya’s reputation had become world-wide, and his influence upon modern art thoroughly recognised.
Goya’s gift to the modern world is twofold: impressionism and, if one may coin a word, expressionism. To the former we have already alluded in comparing his kind of impressionism with that of Velasquez. While the earlier artist with his objective vision realised an impression of observation : Goya, influenced by temperament, recorded an impression of feeling. This attitude toward art naturally made him welcome to the French Romanticists, and through them brings him in touch with the general modern tendency toward self-expression. For the modern artist learned from Velasquez the principles of impressionistic painting, as a foundation of technique, but later derived from Goya the secret of impressionism for the purpose of expressing the emotion with which the subject inspired him. To the tempera-mental impressionist, therefore, Goya seems to represent the last word in technical distinction.
But today the impressionist himself is on trial. The world is beginning to question the worth-whileness of his art, except as a necessary transition-stage to some-thing more fundamentally vital that is in process of evolution. What this will prove to be is at present in suspense; but we are vaguely discerning that it will be something at once more organically basic than impressionism and more spiritualised in motive. It may have been inevitable for the artist to depend on temperament in an age, such as the late century has been, of religious, mental and moral upheaval, during which the old academic, dogmatic forms of religion and art were toppling down, the hard old conventions that shackled social and mental betterment were being gradually disintegrated, and old values were being reduced to a flux in the melting pot of scientific analysis. But, as order has begun to emerge from this confusion, the need of a new constructive faith is taking hold of men’s minds; the need of a new consciousness of some spiritual relation with the universe of matter. If the art of the future is to keep pace with progress outside itself, it must shape new motives to this need; and already there are signs that it is doing so.
It is here that Goya’s second gift to posterity appears.
His influence has been working in the direction of expression, as the painter’s goal, rather than representation. For a while, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Velasquez’s inimitable faculty of recording a visual impression fascinated artists. Consciously or otherwise, these men were a part of the material and scientific tendency of the time, and material representation seemed to them the Ultima Thule of artistic achievement. Hence the thousands of canvases by men of all countries which in their point of view are neither more nor less than photographic. Their authors remained content to vie with the camera; and then, because they had superior opportunities in color, were proud and scornful when they beat the camera at its own game. Meanwhile, there were painters who began to wish to play a game of their own; to rid painting of the obsession in the matter of representation, and to make their pictures more expressive of their own abstract sense of beauty. To these – men Goya came as a revelation. Through his impressionism of feeling they learned principles of expression, not discoverable in Velasquez.
It is true that the influence of Goya has tended for some time toward solely temperamental and emotional expression. That was because the tendency of the age ran in this direction. Today, however, it is pointed in a new direction, facing the actual realities of existence. Impressionism is melting away before a new dawn of Realism. Thinking people are beginning to reestablish themselves upon the facts of life; not the old conventions that passed as facts, but the facts, as they are presenting themselves to a newly awakened realisation of an encompassing environment of spiritual facts. They are Realists, who would study the facts of life in their spiritual relation to the universe.
Behind this still uncertain momentum of modem thought art is groping. If one ventures to hazard a conjecture of the outcome, it may be that the painter will get back to a more disciplined and scientific use of form and color, using them organically, but not, how-ever, to the sole or even the main end of representation. He will appeal as directly and exclusively as possible to man’s purely esthetic perceptions, and correlate these to his conception of universal beauty. Painting thus may become once more, but in a new religious sense, a spiritualized expression.
Following this train of thought one comes upon a curious analogy between Goya and El Greco. It was no accident of changing whim that has made the progressive artist of to-day turn from Velasquez to Goya, and has drawn so many besides artists to admiration of El Greco. It is because both tender to the needs of today. Both are artists of expression. They share with Rembrandt the distinction of being the greatest artists of expression that any school can show. Though Goya’s genius is confined to a lower level of expression, it points in principle to the spiritual altitude of El Greco’s. Both are models of suggestion for the artist of today, if he is alive to the esthetic and spiritual needs of his age and is striving to express them.
That, after its own period of greatness, it should be thus refertilizing modern art, is the proud distinction of the Spanish School.