This is Goya – a beautiful illustrated and original biography on one of the most important Spanish artists

Wendy Bird, This is Goya. illustrations by Sarah Maycock

Published 2015 by Laurence King Publishing


I have come across a beautiful collection that includes biographies of famous artists of the world. As a lover of graphic books I was happy to see that these ones do not only present life facts but also incorporate original representations of very talented illustrators.


The first to begin was This is Goya. My sister had lived in Madrid for several years and I visited her as often as possible. Spain is incredible and Madrid has a story at every corner. Museo del Prado is, of course, a must, an exceptional choice for seeing Spanish art.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes is the first of the modern artists.

A few years before his death, when he painted Saturn Devouring One of His Sons, André Malraux saw in the painting the opening gate to modern art. A century later, the same painting would become the source of inspiration for Dali’s Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), 1936.

Goya lived in a time of cultural and political dynamism, when Spain began to accept the first modern influences from France but was still facing the disapproval of the puritans and the censorship of the Inquisition.

Goya would feed on and reflect these first sparks of an enlightened Spain. The Madrid of his youth and middle age was a modern, optimistic city, where the sun always shone, and Goya recorded its panorama of street life. His real fascination was with the human form and human expression – especially as he saw it in the world around him.

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He was born in Aragon; as a child Goya helped his father gild church organs and later moved to Madrid where he began to work at the Royal Tapestry Factory, producing cartoons with pastoral scenes that projected a positive image of the enlightened Spain.

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In 1786 Goya was appointed court painter to Charles III and painted numerous portraits of the royal family and the aristocracy at the court.

There was a change in Goya’s work at this point, an uneasiness that had not been present in the earlier, light-hearted tapestry cartoons. This reflected changing attitudes in society, and people were beginning to look critically at tradition and traditional practices.

When he was left completely deaf, in 1973, Goya became isolated and pessimistic. His most famous print series, Los Caprichos (The Caprices), originally thought as images of dreams, were used to depict society with its injustices and ignorance.

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The Peninsular War seriously marked Goya who recorded in his Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War)  the atrocities of war, the famine and the brutality against women.

Among the atrocities Goya represented is this mutilated body based on the Belvedere Torso, the classical sculpture of Hercules he drew while in Italy. Goya shows the abomination that is war, but at the same time interrogates the role of art in times of barbaric horror. Traditionally war art had been about heroism, but for Goya it was a means of reporting the truth. The prints are ground-breaking as artworks and disturbingly realistic. On one of the images Goya wrote: I saw this – and this too – experience, not imagination.

Goya, This is worse
This is Worse, number 37 from The Disaster of War. Yale University Art Gallery.
Belvedere Torso
Belvedere Torso, 1st century BCE, Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican. Source

After his wife died, Goya bought a house which become known as La Quinta del Sordo (The House of the Deaf Man). In his mental despair, Goya created his Black Paintings on the walls of the house:

Fourteen monumental murals spanned the two floors of his house. Hellish black came into its own, standing solitary figures in abject gloom and carving out deep anatomical hollows: devouring mouths, pits of eye sockets and terrified, gaping pupils. So, at the end of life, Goya surrounded himself with his haunting visions.

The collection has an interesting selection of names so I am sure there will be more than Goya on my list.


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