Francisco de Goya Biography
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes began what would be an enormously productive career at an early age.
Born in Fuendetodos, Spain in 1746, Goya was only 12 years old when he apprenticed in the studio of painter José Luzán y Martinez in Zaragoza. It would take Goya nearly 20 years and several prestigious commissions to accomplish his goal of admission to Spain’s Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. From that moment, however, his rise to prominence was rapid; appointed Assistant Director of the Academy in 1785, Goya was named pinto del rey the next year, and, in 1789, three months before the outbreak of the French Revolution, court painter to Charles IV. By 1799, when he undertook his first etchings, he was director of the Academy and one of Spain’s most prominent painters.
During his long life (Goya died in 1828 at the age of 82) Goya would serve two other monarchs-- Joseph Bonaparte and Ferdinand VII--and their courts, and would witness a tumultuous period of Spanish history marked by devastating famine, the Inquisition, occupation by Napoleon’s armies, and the Peninsular War with France. A highly intelligent and deeply moral individual who espoused Enlightenment ideals of truth, reason, and justice, Goya came to despise the ineffectiveness and corruption of the monarchy that patronized him, the ostentatious frivolity of the upper classes, and thehypocrisy of the religious orders. After a severe illness (possibly syphilis) in 1792-3 left him deaf, Goya paintings became dichotomous; portrait paintings of the royal family and lighthearted depictions of aristocrats at play, painted in the rococo style of pre-revolution France, now coexisted with drawings and etchings that explored the shadow side of life and human nature. This direction first emerged in Los Caprichos, 80 etchings that exposed the vice and corruption of Spanish society and the Catholic Church, satirizing the arrogance of the nobility and the peasantry’s superstitious belief in witchcraft. To protect himself from the wrath of the Court and Inquisition, Goya masked his satire by means of images that inspired multiple interpretation and, ultimately, donated the plates to the king.
In 1808, shortly after France invaded Spain, he undertook Los Desastres de la Guerra, an unsparingly horrific visual account of war, from the ferocity of village fighting, to the terrible famine that ravaged Madrid in 1811-12, claiming 20,000 lives. With a stark intensity unprecedented in the history of art, the 80 prints in the series convey the barbarity and futility of war. Not surprisingly, the Desastres were not published in Goya’s lifetime; and the politically astute artist remained in official favor while producing graphic work that expressed an increasingly critical and despairing view of life in Spain at the turn of the century. Although he continued as court painter when Ferdinand VII was reinstated as monarch in 1814, Goya carried out few royal commissions, devoting himself to his final etching series,La Tauromaquia and Los Disparates; the latter comprised 18 enigmatic and deeply pessimistic images that recall the "black" paintings that decorated his home, the Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man), in the early 1820s. Goya emigrated to France in 1824 and died in Bordeaux in 1828 after completing a set of lithographs entitled The Bulls of Bordeaux. Of the great painter-engravers in the history of art, Goya was the least successful in his lifetime, publishing fewer than half of his prints and failing to sell most of those he printed.