José de Goya Y Lucientes, known as Goya, was one of the earliest artists
to see beneath the façade of rationality and expose the mind as the seat
of irrationality. Active in Spain and employed for much of his career by
the corrupt court of the Spanish king Charles IV, Goya rejected the
light-hearted fantasies of his great predecessor at court Giovanni
Battista Tiepolo. Instead, Goya looked penetratingly at the characters
of the decaying monarchy who employed him, experienced the brutality of
Napoleon's forces on the Spanish people, and distilled from these and
other events a view of humanity as often bestial.
Francisco Goya, considered to be "the Father of Modern Art," began his painting career just after the late Baroque period. Over the course of his long career, Goya moved from jolly and lighthearted to deeply pessimistic and searching in his paintings, drawings, etchings, and frescoes.
Goya was one of the first artists to make human madness a major theme in his work. Many of Goya's paintings, such as "Saturn Devouring His Children" (shown here) and etchings depict madness, and even his portraits often emphasized the neurotic and decadent nature of his subjects.
Goya was born in Fuendetodos, Spain, in the kingdom of Aragón in 1746 to José Benito de Goya y Franque and Gracia de Lucientes y Salvador. He spent his childhood in Fuendetodos, where his family lived in a house bearing the family crest of his mother. His father earned his living as a gilder. About 1749, the family bought a house in the city of Zaragoza and some years later moved into it. Goya attended school at Escuelas Pias, where he formed a close friendship with Martin Zapater, and their correspondence over the years became valuable material for biographies of Goya. At age 14, he entered apprenticeship with the painter José Luzán.
Goya then left for Madrid with the intention of winning a prize at the Academy of San Fernando. Although he didn’t win, he met the court artist Francisco Bayeu who was to prove influential in forming Goya’s early style. Bayeu was heavily influenced by the German painter Anton Taphael Mengs, and passed elements of this style on to Goya. Bayeu was also instrumental in Goya’s first involvement in a commission. This was the fresco decoration of the Church of the Virgin in El Pilar in Zaragoza.
In 1773 Goya married Josefa Bayeu, sister of Francisco Bayeu. In 1774, the German artist Anton Raphael Mengs summoned Goya to Madrid to paint cartoons for tapestries for the Royal Factory of Santa Barbara. It is possible that Goya first met Mengs in Rome, since many years later he wrote that it was Mengs who made him return to Spain. In any event, it was Mengs who started him on his career at court. Under the direction first of Mengs, and later of Francisco Bayeu and Mariano Maella, Goya executed over 60 tapestry cartoons between 1775 and 1792. Man as victim was another of Goya's great themes.
Francisco Goya was in Madrid when Napoleon's troops occupied the city, and he may have witnessed the execution of Spanish loyalists on 3 May, 1808. Six years later, in 1814, Goya commemorated the episode, which had taken place just outside the royal palace. The Third of May, 1808 (shown here) is both specific and elemental. French troops are shown lined up at the right, efficiently and remorselessly dispatching their prisoners. Goya exposed these victim's hideous plight, illuminating their desperation, fear, and helplessness by the lamplight needed in the early dawn for the soldiers to hit their marks. Despite its origins in a historic event, Goya's painting goes beyond the specific references and is a stark portrayal of man's inhumanity to man.
Goya swore allegiance to the French King, Joseph Bonaparte. During the war he was occupied with portraits of family groups and private citizens. At the time he made his personal record of the war in expressive and fearful drawings Desastres de la Guerra, which were later used for a series of 82 etchings, which were published only in 1863.
In August 1812, when the British entered Madrid, Goya accepted a commission for an equestrian portrait of the Duke of Wellington and, soon afterwards, painted one other portrait of his only recorded English sitter. On the restoration of Ferdinand VII in 1814, Goya resumed his office as First Court Painter.
The portraits of Ferdinand were Goya’s last royal portraits, he went out of favor and fashion. From now on Goya was chiefly occupied with paintings for private patrons, for friends and for himself.
He continued to record his observations and ideas in drawings. During this period Goya received two important ecclesiastical commissions for St. Justa and St. Rufina, painted in 1817 for the Seville Cathedral, and for "The Last Communion of St. Joseph of Calasanz", (shown here) painted in 1819 for the church of the Escuelas Pías de San Antón in Madrid. Dissatisfied with political developments in Spain, Goya retired to Bordeaux in 1824 under the guise of seeking medical advice. His final years were spent there and in Paris.