8 July 2014

Francisco de Goya and his black paintings.

I owe you, my readers, an apology for such a long break from posting and writing. I have been writing but it seemed that I never finished those many articles - ideas about Witkiewicz, Wojtkiewicz, Goya, Max Ernst, Remedios Varos, the Museum of Surrealism in Vienna, Tadeusz Makowski, Mathias Grunewald and so on and so on. I can only blame my nature, my pessimism and my sluggishness or maybe idleness.

Getting older isn't a nice event in once life. I am not that old but also not young anymore.  I have become obsessed with death. I am not afraid to die. However  I am terrorized by the idea that one day I will wake up and everyone close and precious to me in this life (life for me is about people and love, not about possessions and things) will have disappeared. They will simply no longer be here, they will all be dead.  That happened to lots of humans during the second world war, it happens still in Arabia and Africa every day. It could happen to me too. Our existence on this planet is so unpredictable, often surreal and cruel.

This long preamble brings me to Francisco de Goya. Two months ago I spent a whole day in the Prado, Madrid.  Of course one day, even if it is from the opening till the closing isn't enough for the Prado. But I have my preferences, my own likes and not-likes (dislikes would be too strongly stated), being selective leaves me more time to see what I want to see.  

Prado, Spain, Madrid and my obsession with death, all that logically brings me to Goya,  of course.  Goya of the Pinturas Negras, the so-called black paintings. Goya made them in his last years in Madrid, 1820-24. He did it for himself, and only for himself.  They are murals. He painted the walls in his farmhouse -villa  “la Quinta del Sordo”, outside Madrid.  He was not working anymore for the royal family, he was free of duties. He could paint entirely and only for his own pleasure. However after seeing those works you can assume that Goya didn't paint them to express his pleasure, happiness and delight.  I would insist, that he painted them to state his anger about the political situation in Spain, his fear of death, his disappointment with humanity and maybe his pessimism and depression.  To tell the truth, nobody really knows what was his motivation to do so. All the explanations by art critics, curators and some artists are only speculations. If you would like to read some more reasonable and sensible discourse on this issue I would definitely recommend the biography of Goya written by Robert Hughes. ( I am a huge fan of Robert Hughes writing talent. )

Las Parcas - The Fates 

14 dark paintings all placed together in one large room in the Prado. What a treatment for a disturbed  and pessimistic soul - I am talking about myself. I could stay in that room in Prado the whole day just going around and admire the imagination, the artistic concept, the use of colours, the stroke of his brush and thinking about how to steal them!  Yes, I would love to have it in my own house -  probably they would make of me  a totally  medieval monk, locked in my  external hermitage of Goya's spirit. Some of the paintings are almost black/grey and brownish - some of them like Sabbath-Asmodeus or Duel with Clubs are more colourful with used of aero blue, bright iridescent red and unbleached titanium.  Most of the works are huge, from 144 cm high till 438 cm width.

Duel with Clubs


The most famous black painting is probably Saturn Devouring His Son (it could be a daughter, though!).  The head is already consumed by Saturn as is much of the right arm. He doesn't look very pleased with this.  He looks ashamed for his horrifying act of incest and at the same time  uncontrolled.  The story of Saturn devouring his children is based actually on a Greek myth about the god Kronos, one of the Titans. Saturn is the Roman name for Kronos.  Kronos learned from his mother Gaia and his father Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured all of them, both the male and female, as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy coming true. It is one of the early myth.

Saturn Devouring His Son

For me the most beautiful, pur sang work of art is Head of a Dog. It is so modern and contemporary that it is very difficult to conceive that it was painted almost 200 years ago. You can't just pass the painting. You can't ignore it.  It is a big canvas 134 cm x 80 cm, made in a few tones only:  diverse ochres and siennas.  There is a huge empty space and in the middle of the lower part of the image only a small protruding head of a dog.  I looked at the small sad head of the dog, and I swear I could hear his terrified yearning. The dog is totally alone, there is nobody there, and there will be nobody there. Only the almost invisible shadow of somebody, maybe a ghost. The situation is hopeless, melancholy par excellence. Of course all the paintings are amazing, made by a man who was already 74/78 years old, but still innovative and still progressing, a real genius!

Head of a Dog

I love Goya, I admire his talent, his passion, his brush stroke, his choice of colours, his work ethos, his never ending search for new media and his determination to be true to himself as an artist and as a person.

You must go and see the black paintings!

Baron Émile d'Erlanger acquired “la Quinta” in 1873 and had the paintings transferred to canvas. The works suffered enormously in the process, losing a large amount of paint. Finally, the Baron donated these paintings to the State, and they were sent to the Prado Museum, where they have been on view since 1889.

"Heads in a landscape" is, in all probability, the fifteenth Black Painting. It became separated from the other paintings in the collection and is now in the collection of Stanley Moss in New York.(from Wikipedia)

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