Goya: Biographical and Critical Study

Goya: Biographical and Critical Study

Goya: Biographical and Critical Study

Goya: Biographical and Critical Study

Excerpt

Goya left an immense body of work behind him: some 500 oil paintings, about 280 etchings and lithographs, and nearly a thousand drawings. Any attempt to stake out the limits of his art or to embrace its infinite variety within the terms of a single definition or set formula is doomed to failure. Any such attempt, however astute, in some way belittles it or denies Goya some part of the enormous influence he has had on all painting since his time. We may think we know him, yet there are gaps in our knowledge both of the man and the artist -- a veil of mystery shrouding not only several crucial periods of his life but several of his most important works. Add to this the halo of legend that clung to the figure of Goya even in his own lifetime, and it will be granted that he presents something of a problem case.

But, for all the gaps, our knowledge of his life is the most reliable key we have to his work. The story of his life spans 82 years, from 1746 to 1828, and its successive phases exactly correspond to the one thing we must grasp if we are to understand his art: its evolution in time and the peculiar rhythm of that evolution. What strikes us most when we try to sum up Goya's art are its violent contrasts and staccato breaks of continuity. Visitors to the Prado can hardly believe their eyes when they pass from his Holy Family to The Shootings of May Third, and from the Black Paintings of the "Quinta del Sordo" to The Milkmaid of Bordeaux. A gallery of pictures by Velazquez or El Greco is as harmonious and coherent as a roomful of Goya's is disconcerting. One lifetime, however long, seems hardly long enough for such versatility as this. In vain do we apply our usual notions of environment and evolution as we cast about for an explanation; these the complex nature of Goya's art completely defies.

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