Imagine being a "master" of the old world; an artist with the vision who has lived through French and Spanish revolutions/civil wars, and is in the century on the brink of the 20th century. Being a contemporary of idiot kings, Napoleon, military depravity and savagery, witchcraft hunters, and a non existent family support, what would you do? If you are an artistic genius who has painted Spanish royalty,atmospheric tapestries, and historic snapshots of historic revolutions, what do you do? Well, if you are Francisco Goya, you move into a house and begin work on the "Pinturas Negras", or Black Paintings.
I was fortunate enough to visit Madrid and Del Prado in high school, and immediately searched out the Black Paintings. The paintings were made with oils directly on the walls of Goya's house, affectionately known by the locals as the "Quinta del Sordo", and being burnt out on mankind and its depravity, Goya put some of the most interesting pieces of work into the consciousness of humankind. Demonic? Demented? Sure, but also likely an accurate representation of one artist's state of mind of the world prior to all the horrors of the 20th century. Goya never intended the paintings to be seen by the public, so the state of mind Goya must have been at when the paintings were made was likely infatuated with the absurdity of the times. So, dear friends, I give you my personal favorite five Black Paintings, in order, with my first impressions that have stuck with me for a very long time. I'd be interested in getting others first impressions as well - so please, leave comments, if you feel so inclined. Here we go!
Up first, "Saturn Devouring His Son". Not much really to say outside of the Greek legend regarding Cronos and his consumption of his children for fear of losing his life and legacy. Demented and a favorite of others in my high school class way back when, this one is too visual for me. I see a ton of insecurity and insanity in the eyes of the Cronos/Saturn.
Next would be "Two Old Men Eating Soup". All I could think of when I first saw this was the scene from Texas Chainsaw, wherein the family of Texan inbreeds carries a decrepid/rotted grandfather down to a family meal regarding a young, attractive blonde woman. I certainly thought the grandfather in "Texas" was dead, but was disturbed when he began to move when the group attempted to crack open the blonde's skull. I can only think that a similar situation occurred in Goya's vision almost 200 years ago.
What to think here? "Fantastic Vision" screams of a Utopian ideal in my mind. Set amidst Naopoleanic warfare nonsense, two figures are pointing to a fortress high above the insanity of death. The imagination can only provide an answer to the figures ability to levitate, and to what the fortress holds.
Ah, the "Witches Sabbath". What an interesting piece. This one takes up an entire wall at Del Prado and any online/print reproductions really do it no justice. Quite the scene; a goat/demonic entity that has been summoned by cowering humans. A young, innocent girl at the right; a sacrifice? A dead nun protruding from the ground immediately to the right of the of goat-like entity. So much fear and despair in the audience, but an audience willing to be present, nonetheless. One of nightmares, this one screams of the horrors in our psyches.
And finally to my favorite, "The Dog". This one screams so much to my senses. Alienation, desolation, loneliness; you name it, this one has it. So simple yet so powerful. A dog looking at something but is alone on a beach or a slope. Years later, after discovering Joy Divsion, I always thought this one would have been a great album cover for the great Manchester group. How do all of us not, at one point in our live, feel like the central character of this great painting? A true masterpiece that never fails to deliver.
So that's it. I hope to do a similar top five of Goya's etchings in the future. Goya has always been a favorite of my artistic library; I hope others will find similar beauty in his works.