Francisco de Goya’s career spanned one of the most turbulent eras in European history. For more than 60 years the new liberal values of the Enlightenment battled with the religious and social strictures of the old continental monarchies. As revolution, counter-revolution and war ravaged Europe, Goya’s work not only chronicled the nature of his epoch but underwent an extraordinary revolution itself, giving rise to his reputation as the last of the Old Masters and the father of modern art.
Goya was born in Fuendetodos, Spain; at the age of 14 his family moved to Zaragoza, where he trained under José Luzán y Martínez. By the late 1770s he had earned himself a place as an artist to the Madrid court of King Charles III. The years of his professional ascent were spent working in the Rococo traditions of the Spanish court, producing tapestry cartoons, religious paintings and court portraits. But, at the height of his career, illness struck – in 1792, six years after he had been appointed Painter to the King, he was left permanently deaf. It was a calamity that affected Goya profoundly. Though he would remain a celebrated court painter, he began to explore more intimate and personal subject matters, developing a style that was often looser and more impressionistic. In 1799 he produced the extraordinary, satirical print sequence, Los Caprichos, and, from 1808, his work on the Peninsular War, including his masterpieces, The Third of May 1808 (1814) and The Disasters of War (1810-20), reveal a uniquely modern, humanist sensibility that saw war as a series of nightmarish atrocities rather than the glorious enterprise of traditional representation.
In his later years, embittered by the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars and Spain’s subsequent return to despotism under Ferdinand VII, he produced the haunting murals known as the Black Paintings (1820-23). Presaging Impressionism, and even Expressionism, they are Goya’s revolutionary testament to the birth of the modern world as a place of terror and darkness.
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