This man, these paintings, this blatant show of raw brutality. You can’t categorize them. You can say he was inspired, you can say he was influenced; you can say he was possessed by the artistic demons of depression and candor… and he was. The colors of his mind, the way he saw life, felt it – he didn’t hear it – manifested themselves, on canvases, as firing squads – their faces robotic, dehumanized – slaughtering terrified, brave, bloody civilians on a stark background of blacks and acidic browns and reds. In this summary, we will examine three of Goya’s most famous works in terms of color and emotional texture, and then perhaps you can decide for yourself, and answer this question: intrepid radical, or dour misanthrope?
1. Saturn Devouring His Children: With sponge and brush, Goya left slashes of human, gritty colors and histories, laid bare for all to see. In “Saturn Devouring His Children”, one of the deeply disturbing “black paintings” left on the walls of his villa – Casa del Sordo – he depicts a monster, a lunatic, in blacks and grays so devoid of feeling to better interpret the terror of the baby who’s flesh hung torn and rotting from Saturn’s nails and teeth. Long, violent strokes look like blood scraped painstakingly across a rough concrete wall.
2. The Nude Maja: “The Nude Maja” was one of Goya’s few paintings that did not deal with blood and war, or royal portraiture… however, it did get him in trouble with the Inquisition – which was supposed to have been banished already – for its so-called obscenity. The coquettish stare of the fully-frontal, reclining Spanish belle – coupled with soft, smooth skin juxtaposed with crisp light bed linens – wreaked havoc in the prudish Madrid society of the time, perhaps more so than any other of the Maestro’s depictions.
3. Family of Charles IV: In his “Family of Charles IV”, Goya used neutral, toned-down colors such as white, blue, dark brown and peach… perhaps to underscore the obvious display of human vices and vulgar interiors playing over the countenances of the people portrayed – the overstuffed, bloated king; the proud-yet-base queen; the sometime smug, sometime terrified children; the hawk-like old woman with a black birthmark and beady predator’s eyes peering out from a corner. With an unflinching stare Goya must have painted these beings, knowing full well what went on inside their heads.
Obsessed with painting the suffering and horrifying torture that went on in the life he observed, inflicted by soldiers and monarchs alike, Goya used garish lighting and nocturnal colors to interpret the world he loathed and saw through tortured eyes. He died in Paris, France… in a self-castigational exile. He fathered about twenty children… but none followed him in his footsteps – very defined footsteps, at that. His wild genius was too intense, his sympathies and passions to radical to duplicate with the same ardor and bravery as he lived them.