By Pablo J. Rico
Francisco de Goya was born on March 30, 1746. His life and singular creative adventure took place in times of extreme social, political and cultural convulsion. At the passage of the 18th to the 19th Century, Spain, Europe and America were going through profound transformation and changes in their fundamental structures, bringing to an end the political and social regimen in evident decline and causing the triumph and slow consolidation of the new state of being and understanding of the world: modernism.
During Goya's lifetime, from 1746 and 1828, the years Goya lived, a series of especially significant events happened in the history of humanity and, in particular, of the western world: the publication of L'Enciclop�die (1751), the process towards the Independence of the United States of America and the presentation of its Constitution (1787), the fall of the Bastille in Paris and the Declaration of the Rights of Man in France (1789), the execution of the French monarchs (1793), Napoleon's victory over the Directoire (1799) and his coronation as Emperor (1803), the "Napoleonic" War in Europe, the abdication of Charles IV, King of Spain and the beginning of the "Independence War" in Spain (1808), the abdication of Napoleon (1812), the celebration of the Congress of Vienna and the "Holy Alliance" (1815), several proclamations of independence in Spanish and Portuguese America - Venezuela and Colombia (1811-1819), Argentina (1816), Mexico (1821), Brazil (1822).
If these events represent in themselves the expression of a radical process of transformation, of no less importance is the fact that this period coincides with the lives and creative activities of great intellectual men: among whom were Montesquieu, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, Winckelmann, D'Alembert, Diderot, Hegel, Kant, Schiller, Schopenhauer, Comte, Pushkin, Balzac, Novalis, Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand, Feuerbach, Byron, W. Scott, Feijoo, Samaniego, Jovellanos. At the same time, extraordinary scientific and technological advancements took place, thanks to the investigations of Linneo, Lavoisier, Laplace, Jenner, Malthus, Humboldt, Darwin, Stephenson, Niepce, and others. In the music world, there were the works created by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, Rossini, Verdi, Wagner, and others. In painting, for longer or shorter periods of time, the following well known and influential artists were Goya's contemporaries: Giaquinto, Tiepolo, Guardi, Piranesi, Mengs, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hogarth, Constable, Turner, Fragonard, David, Ingres, Delacroix, G�ricault, and Corot, to name a few.
Goya's works and his peculiar aesthetic evolution were essentially affected by these times of deep transformations, and they express, in a way that cannot be seen in any other contemporary creator, the contradictions that were pertinent to those times in which one "lived dangerously". His personal and creative adventure, his singular existential dramaturgy, is the exact representation of an emotive and painful conquest of liberty from reason to imagination, united and feeding themselves altogether, with no possible paradox, a horrible and unequal fight for the future and modernism, throwing away any conformism or sterile conventionalism. Goya had the luck, or the misfortune, depending on the way you look at it, of living in difficult times and periods in which it was necessary to take committed and risky decisions, or survive abandoning oneself to the waves of the storm, worrying only about keeping oneself afloat and waiting out the storm.
In difficult times, times in which everything, including the future, is in radical discussion or doubt, when the apparently solid and functional structures start to tremble on its foundations and crumble floor by floor, fa�ades and hollows of staircases, when everything seems reversed and mirrors are no good and speculation to save any image of the day before, when words change their meaning or lose their impact because of the abuse one gives them as the only illusory last resort, one always finds a few exceptional human beings. Those nameless or historically recognized persons succeed in articulating "strong" thoughts and a new concept in which they join the will, intentions and involvement with hope, or building more effective idealistic constructions (with recycled materials saved from the disaster, or other new materials created by pressing need), or generating powerful black points that attract and condense the way we see this universe of 360 degrees of absurd argument/pointless argument/unintelligible argument. They invent new words or literature in which each meaning corresponds not only to a whole group of signs and sounds but also to a precise ideogram and an exact score, or they experiment with a new language of expressions, smiles, grimaces, with the whole body, without uttering a verb, an adjective or a noun, and those that need neither simultaneous translation nor interactive programs to learn them.
Certainly, all times and periods are difficult, but some are more so than others, because for them apparently the future is no longer possible, nor to be hoped for. Those of Goya were like that, as at few other moments in History. Those of today seem to be like that too, because everybody has agreed to say so, everywhere, and to build all kinds of phrases, using words which are lexically very similar, such as crisis, critical point or to criticize, and others. Among those daring and committed, adventurous or courageous human beings who live at the limit of their forces, are the artists, the craftsmen of thought, architects of ideas, generators of images and feelings, book inventors, story tellers and poets of the body, all of them provokers and terrorists of the established disorder, stateless, unbelievers, agnostics of all dogma, and of their poor and insignificant daily safety.
In most parts, and with more or less success, this state of things and attitude was called, and is called (in spite of the meaning one wishes to give it), modernism. In addition, the taxidermists of History gave it a name that will was immediately devaluated by the overuse of one recurrent word, Romanticism. Words that in the end can induce error and very superficial losses, but which the urgency justifies their use, in this case to speak about Goya, his unique existential and creative voyage in those difficult times, since then until now.
Goya represents modernity because he lived his times with total surrender and generosity. To each radical transformation and change of his times corresponds a deep commotion in his personal life, his character, his artistic creation. Goya does not hold any strength, any pretext, to face each tremor of the earth under his feet. Although he was educated according to the usual, to the well-defined model of classicism, he abandoned himself to the individual and psychological disorder and to the catastrophe of the unknown. He knew, or intuitively felt that these are difficult times and each one must watch over his own salvation, search for his own path without any useless distractions or sterile heroism. His relationship with the other shipwrecked persons had to be that of complicity, in the hope and illusion shared in the salvation of those that may be rescued and have the strength to succeed. Although it may seem paradoxical, this superhuman selfish and individualistic attitude, taken to the final consequences, has an enormous degree of fairness and ethical behavior in relation to the companion of misfortune. More than ever, one is conscious that others are facing similar circumstances, that one's own salvation depends not only on oneself but on the resistance of others, never of the others' elimination, of disloyal competition or trap, of homicide. The shipwrecked are totally free in relation to themselves. It is up to them to make the only possible decisions, either the suicide of will or unconditional resistance. For them it is necessary, above all, besides strength of character and natural conditions or masterfully learned resources, to exercises an extreme concentration on each episode of the personal or creative drama in which one is representing oneself, living as if it were the last moment precarious existence. And Goya lived it in a radical manner, possible only to the deaf, concentrating on his breathing and movements, on his heart heats, discovering the meaning of words by reading lips, watching eye movements, and the color of the cheeks. In this existential and creative autism, one may be sure of only what is very deep inside, or of what is exceptionally outside of ourselves, catching our attention and distracting us forever. The only similar sensation to essential and absolute possession is to feel possessed and a slave of the unknown person's eyes, for whom we are nothing but an object of his desire or contempt.
To my understanding, Goya represents and brings to life this metaphor of the romantic life and modernism, not only in his general idea/understanding but also in his way of being in this world. An heir of classicism and the Academy, he does not vacillate in getting rid of the burdens and conventional obstacles to fight more intensively in favor of his painting. His ambition to reach positions of merit and prestige and of economic independence, only make sense from the moment he obtains them, and in the use he makes of his greater freedom and ability to influence. Goya rises in the social ranks, prowling the higher echelons of power, and from there makes his message of liberty and agnosticism more audible and convincing. After each worldly satisfaction, after each acknowledgment of the established society, a truly daring action occurs, a cycle of absolutely moving and restless paintings. To face the rejection, persecution or oblivion, Goya grows inside, goes deep into the limits of his own reason or that of third parties, shutting in an obscure mystery from which he knows he will only come out as time passes, even after his own lifetime. In answer to his contemporaries, he offered them pictures and arguments to disturb them and alter their perception of things. In the face of their ignorance or disdain, his language becomes more self-contained, more cruel and horrible for his damaged ears. He knows that the future will arrive, sooner or later, and that nobody can stop it. This gives him hope and infuriates him, because he has no time to live it, to make his most shivering paintings and drawings, his most intimate confessions (Los Disparates and Las Pinturas Negras) and he is sure that he will never unveil these to anyone else but his own shadow of sorrow and melancholy.
To Goya, living his times, representing modernity, is also to describe himself in the first person: "I have seen", he wrote at the bottom of a brutal scene of his Desastres de la Guerra. "I am still learning", he would say of himself at the end of his days. To see and learn from life were chores to which Goya abandoned himself as a man committed to his times. As an artist, he created pictures to retain the memory of and for History. We, human beings, are the only beings that ask questions. We know that life is a succession of connected questions, or just one question that sums up the previous ones, surrounded by immense question marks. An artist should not only ask himself questions like everyone else, but, more important, he should answer them. His questions will be the food and motivation for new questions and doubts. An artist, a writer, a creator in any field, will never leave those who look at or receive a piece of his work indifferent. Goya always knew, especially in his mature years, of his ability to disturb through his paintings, evoking with them the unknown or that personal insignificant reminiscence greedily kept and with no witnesses, or of pushing us to the limit of reality and reason.
Possibly it was Goya, in his times, who could better explore those limits beyond which one feels the dizziness of the unreal and irrational, the unmentioned mystery. Also, in this fundamental aspect of the human condition, the "dream of reason", Goya inaugurated a new form of being and expressing himself. Before psychoanalysis received the theoretical and empirical foundations of a speculative science, or biology and chemistry explained effectively the mechanisms of human behavior relating them to the genetic structure or environment, Goya had already investigated the silence of his solitude, the truths of his distress, the roots and ramifications of his dissatisfaction. Very few men of science and spirit have reached so deeply as Goya in his pilgrimage, and with so little and fragile means.
It is not surprising that many of the artists and creators who were more committed to their respective "difficult times", under a radical concept of being and expressing "modernism", have had as one of their fundamental references the personal experience and the pictures of Goya. In some cases the parallelisms and evidence are born from the safety of his own pictures. In others, they themselves refer to this fraternity or connection of interests. If one may say that Goya is a romantic avant la lettre, no less may be said of some of his younger contemporaries, such as Delacroix, G�ricault, Alenza, and Eugenio Lucas. If one of the fundamental principles of modernism is to live one's times intensively, facing reality with all of its consequences, it is clear that his psychological portraits or his remarkable criticism and moralizing values, that give sense to his Los Caprichos series, will serve as references or are an excellent starting point for Realism in paintings, for Impressionism, or for the most exacerbated of the expressionisms. Among those persons, we could mention Daumier, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Munch, Ensor, Picasso, Grosz, Beckmann, Bacon, or Warhol. In his more documentary and ideological viewpoint, as in Los Desastres de la Guerra, his influence may be followed by the same Manet and Picasso, as well as by, for example, the Mexican mural specialists Rivera and Orozco, or Guayasam�n.
As stressed above, Goya began a new creative territory in the unreal and psychological world. Undoubtedly, besides other formidable scientific references, Goya served as an example for most of the surrealists, principally Dali, Bu�uel, Mir� and Masson, and later for a number of post-war artists, such as Vostell and Polke in Germany, or Saura and Canogar, and more recently V. Mira, in Spain. In addition, the most essential and abstract experiences in painting in the 20th Century had, at some happy moment, a "goyescan" starting point, either in their compositions, or in their gestural and formal freedom, or in the almost absolute expressive monochromatic paintings of his Pinturas Negras. The paintings of many of the post-war Spanish abstract painters, such as Saura, Millares, Canogar, Viola, S. Victoria, Tapies, and Broto, have been at some moment related to Goya, as well as that of Hartung in France, or Motherwell in the United States.
After what has been shown, it seems obvious to conclude this essay with an appeal to those aspects that make Goya and the paintings of his mature years a paradigm of modernism, possibly of the first modernism, if one bears in mind the conscience in which those times were lived, and a fundamental reference even today, 250 years after his birth. However, these "exemplary lives" are extremely necessary and transcend their own reality and move our vision and thought from so far off. When it looks like this period is coming to an end, and that what is to come will destroy any romantic impulse that may still stand, it would be good to recover, almost intact, from our memory those names and pictures that made this beautiful adventure of living with intensity our essential condition of a hopeful shipwrecked one. And so there is a future...
In all of the extraordinary art works produced by Goya during his almost 60 years of uninterrupted creative activity, for a number of reasons his etchings stand out. There is a total of 270 catalogued etchings, to which we should add 18 lithographs produced by Goya at his home in Bordeaux during the last years of his life, where he experimented with the revolutionary stamping technique invented by Czech Aloys Senefelder. This large number of etchings and lithographs, and the magnificent technique applied by our artist, are unique in Spanish and European art. Only the works of D�rer, Rembrandt, Canaletto or Piranesi, among the classics, or Picasso and Mir�, among the contemporaries, may be compared with those of Goya.
It is even more exceptional if we add to this number hundreds of other preparatory drawings made by the painter, some of which were thrown away immediately, and others that were generated by his etchings and lithographs. In all, this magnificent drawing and graphic work gives us valuable references to the process of creating images followed by Goya and the transfer from copper plate to etching of the drawings he made beforehand (sometimes, with almost total exactness, others incorporating substantial changes at the moment of preparing the plate). In addition, we recognize in Goya's etchings the artist's progressive experimentation in working in a mixed and simultaneous manner with "aqua-fortis" and "aquatint", a new technique at that time, and the qualities and finishing touches with burin, at dry point, to obtain similar effects to those imagined and obtained in his preparatory drawings (with ink and brush).
The virtuosity reached by his "greater series" of etchings - Los Caprichos, Los Desastres de la Guerra, La Tauromaquia and Los Disparates - the precision of lines and drawings, obtaining quantities of great density of blacks and grays, the chiaroscuros, the effects of light, the equilibrium between filled and unfilled etc., make these graphic creations one of Goya's most significant works of his entire artistic life and of the art of his times in general.
Although his strictly graphic examples continue to be important, the biggest value and interest of his "greater series" is the invention of each one of the pictures that they contain, as well as their significance as visual witnesses of his period. They may be hyper-realist descriptions (in Los Desastres de la Guerra), social criticism and moralistic caricature (in Los Caprichos), documentary description (in Tauromaquia), or surrealist delirium of the painter himself (in the case of Los Disparates). On very few occasions in the History of Art can we find, as in these series imagined and created by Goya, an extraordinary collection of images in which there is so much to see, think about and learn.
Undoubtedly, the extreme concentration of Goya in his etchings, and in his work in general, as of 1797, is closely related to his deafness, caused by a serious illness suffered in 1792. This deep concentration and absorption have their best visual metaphor and most splendid reality in the images of his etchings. These are very precise images, even in those in which mystery and the irrational character offer greater ambiguity of meaning. The figures are strictly individualized in their expressions and personal attitudes. The compositions were carefully designed to draw the attention of the spectator and bring out the symbolic or narrative details. The scenes were very well thought out, reaching an exact equilibrium in their dramaturgy, a balanced relation between the characters' actions and their spatial surroundings.
We may appreciate very well Goya's concentration on the detailed character of the techniques of etching used by the master, for it was extremely necessary to obtain the best results. First, the preparatory drawing should be prepared, usually with washed ink and brush. Then, the drawing should be transferred to the plate (usually placing the drawing over the same plate and submitting it to the press which leaves it slightly marked on the plate and prepared for its revision with the burin). The plate should be prepared with precision, with just the right density of resin and special ink wash, in the case of the aquatint technique, or of varnish for protection over which the drawing should be cut, in the case of the aqua-fortis. The drawing has to be direct, which requires a previous definition. One cannot make mistakes, because every line or trace is registered. It is also necessary to control the pressure of the press, adjusting it the maximum possible, in order to obtain all the beautiful qualities that are on the plate after the effect of the acid and after it is inked. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most complex artistic procedures which requires absolute exactness, details and considerable technical knowledge.
But not only in the above-mentioned aspects may we recognize the deep concentration of Goya and the intensity of his creation. We may also discover them, with great surprise, among the themes he choose and his personal reflection or description of them. In the case of Los Caprichos, the series closest to his illness and first years of deafness, Goya makes a precise and sharp personal analysis of several significant issues of his times, which represent the social status quo of the former, already-decadent regimen, which the painter and many other enlightened liberal intellectuals opposed and wanted to reform. It is very difficult to obtain in an image, and here one may understand very clearly the old saying a picture is worth a 1,000 words, so much expressive and narrative effectiveness to illustrate the causes and consequences of the vices, conventions and ways, which were the object of Goya's criticism, and with the same intensity and precision of biting criticism of the vices and material preoccupations of the clergy, or the clergy state, as well as the criticism of the nobility or of those who wanted to be mixed up with it, or of marriages of convenience, prostitution, and many others.
Goya's visual effectiveness and expressive characteristics as an engraver may be seen again in Los Desastres de la Guerra. In very few other examples of the History of Art do we find a visual document which is so descriptive and realistic, so expressive and moving and so dramatically true, as that which Goya offers to us about the facts related to the Spanish Independence War against the French invasion. The personal attitude and ideological option of our painter in these pictures is of relative neutrality in relation to any of the fighting sides. He represents equally, through the chosen scenes, the excesses and enormous violence done by the respective protagonists, which appear many times anonymously, but radically and emotionally committed to denouncing all of the suffering and barbarity provoked by wars and violence committed with total impunity and for those in which there is no justification. This documentary character of the horrors of war remains almost insurmountable, and cannot be equaled by the photographic or television documentaries of today. This intensification of the values stressed above has a lot to do with the sense of being a witness that our artist gave to this series, besides the technical resources masterfully he used. Goya declares emphatically on one of his etchings: I have seen. In this declaration, in this will to communicate to the audience his own horror, his experience in the presence of the horrors of war, as a wild ceremony of cruelty and violence, is one of the principal aspects of how he conceives modernism, of his incorruptible commitment and hasty risk in the face of his times. His principal value is rooted in the intervention of his own vision, in the inclusion of everything we call subjectivism stressing his own experience (as a creative artist and witness), facing himself, facing the world, facing history.
We can see the same visual effectiveness and documentary character in his third series of etchings, La Tauromaquia, although here he is dealing with a much less dramatic theme, a popular and joyful subject of Goya's maximum predilection: the history and ritual of the bull fights in Spain. When I say these "fights" are joyful and less dramatic, I mean it relatively. Goya's and his contemporaries' feelings and the feelings that most of the fans of these fights yet today, had with regard to this almost mythical show based on the ceremonial confrontation of the bull and the bull fighter. This referential affirmation does not indulge in polemics with other values and sensations that the bull fights may provoke in those that are foreign to the roots and meaning of this "culture of bulls", and may see in them a cruel and unequal butchery. Goya was an great fan and very knowledgeable about the real idealized history of the "bull fights", as well as of the different and successive manners of fooling and taming the bull and finally killing it.
As mentioned before, the actions of the bull fighter with the bull are much more than a game or circus exercise. In them, besides the ceremonial liturgy of sacrifice (adopted in complete symbolism) and of the profoundly subtle and poetic aesthetics, there is a certain risk of death to the bull fighter and to all those who participate in the fight. All of these values and formal and symbolic aspects may be seen in this series by Goya, with great expressiveness, documentary fidelity and advanced plasticity. The choreography of the bull fighter and his assistants, the feeling of danger, the realistic description of the movements and fury of the bull, the theatrical scenery of the bull ring, the presence or disturbing absence of the public, their anonymity, the death of the animal, or of the man, were treated by the artist with great knowledge and visual experience, descriptive, expressive and precise synthesis.
But in the series Los Disparates, Goya's legendary concentration and precision reach their highest peak in a completely different manner. Our artist had almost arrived at the end of his days, leaving behind his illusions and hopes, both personal as well as social and political.
His exterior vision of the world and most intimate thoughts about his past life are full of bitterness and melancholy. Reality strikes him with all its force every day, and he feels relentlessly pursued, mistreated and insecure. It is not surprising that his paintings, and the images that are a part of this last series of etchings, represent this tormented world and express the vital necessity of the mature Goya to create other irrational and illusionary worlds. But it is not an idealized "happy world". On the contrary, they are scenes full of mystery, restless, surprising, because of the unreality of the situations, of the characters. Goya went very deeply into himself, rescuing these unlikely images that their real meaning still are unclear, difuse, uncomprehended to our limited understanding.
His technical skill also enhanced the expressiveness of the images and their precision makes our perception and the meaning we wish to give them more unstable. The grotesque, the absurd, the hallucinating, the unknown territory of dreams and the subconscious are reproduced here for the first time with very crushing, precise and free forms, as no artist had ever before dared to. His influence on modern art has been evident, especially in its more irrational and surrealistic aspects.
Finally, and as a mere descriptive summary, we should stress that the four "greater series" of etchings produced by Goya had different extensions and technical procedures.
The series Los Caprichos was prepared and finished between 1797 and 1799. It was announced and put up for sale during the final year, but a few months later the artist withdrew it, afraid of being accused because of its content, after losing the support of his friends, the liberal ministers. In 1803, the original plates and a good part that had not been sold were given as a present to the King in exchange for a lifetime allowance. Apparently, in the beginning there were going to be 72 engravings, which were finally expanded to 80. To this series we must add five other etchings which the artist destroyed and of which we have only one proof.
The second series, La Tauromaquia, was produced between 1814 and 1816. Goya had to prepare 44 plates, and this is the number of engravings of this series known today. But when he prepared them and put them up for sale, there were only 33 etchings. Three additional proofs are known.
Los Disparates, or Proverbs, as they are also known, were produced between 1819 and 1823. The artist kept them secretly in his home and did not publish them. The number of known plates is 22. There are eight other preparatory drawings which we do not know if they were used later to prepare new plates.
The series Los Desastres de Guerra was prepared between 1810 and the last years of his life. Goya kept the plates for his safety and never published them, except for some proofs. The Academy published the first edition in 1863. The series has 80 plates, to which we should add two more.
Francisco de Goya was born in the small village of Fuendetodos (Zaragoza), on March 30, 1746, 250 years ago, the sixth child of the marriage between Jos� Goya, a craftsman and master gilder, and Engracia Lucientes, who belonged to a family from the lesser nobility of Aragon. After his birth in his mother's parents' home, Goya lived the first 30 years in Zaragoza, where he completed his first studies, began his pictorial training (as an apprentice at the studio of the painter Jos� Luz�n) and completed his first artistic projects.
Goya traveled to Italy, completing his studies and living for a long time in Rome, sharing the same life as the artists of Via Condotti (specially the Polish painter Teodoro Kuntz). Italy will be very important in Goya's artistic development/evolution, not only because he could learn and experiment several techniques (such as fresco painting), or copy the reality of works which interested him and which would soon serve as starting points and a catalogue of images for his future art works, but also because it put him in direct contact with the great Italian and European paintings and strengthen his character as a person and a painter, motivating him towards greater artistic ambition and preparing him to reach the highest objectives.
After his return from Italy, Goya was put in charge of painting a fresco on one of the domes of the Bas�lica del Pilar de Zaragoza, for which he produced a masterful piece of work.
He married Josefa Bayeu, sister of one of the most influential academics and Painter to the King, Francisco Bayeu, and of his colleague in artistic studies in Zaragoza, Ram�n Bayeu. This family of Aragonese academic painters, of which he became a member, opened the doors to the Court in Madrid.
He began to paint portraits for the high nobility of Madrid.
He was appointed Pintor del Rei. During these years Goya painted and received many assignments because of the influence of his brother-in-law, Francisco Bayeu. In the beginning, many of his paintings were impregnated by the academic spirit and aesthetics which were in vogue in the Spanish Court, and from which Goya freed himself little by little, as he reached greater artistic and economic independence from his brother-in-law. He achieved a very personal style, more eclectic in his references and aesthetic solutions, in which we may discover some aspects of his brilliant work: passionate expressivity and a premonition of his mature works.
Having obtained prestige at the Court, gained more and more freedom, become more sure of himself, Goya was appointed Painter to the Chambers of King Charles IV. This honor and the artistic recognition that it gave him opened new possibilities to Goya and more strength to produce "his" paintings. But this is not the principal motive why our painter went deeper into his particular manner of interpreting the human being and spaces. In 1792 Goya suffered a serious illness, in Cadiz, which took him out of inactivity for two years and provoked an irreversible deafness. This forced a partial lack of communication with the world led him to a state of more concentration and more profound reflection about his paintings, the human condition and the society of his times. Goya actively participated in the cultural and liberal circles of the Spanish Court, which were very aware of the events that were happening in Europe since the beginning of the French Revolution (1789), and slowly strengthened his independent and hyper-critical character in relation to those themes and subjects that defined the situation of the "Old Regimen" of Spain, of its social-political foundations and of its customs. He criticized the state society, the clerical state, the parasitic nobility, struggled against the Church as an institution of social control, against the Inquisition, severely criticized marriage as a social convention, hypocrisy as a form of behavior, the reality of prostitution, beggary etc. All of this deep and committed reflection was translated into pictures in his series of etchings "Los Caprichos" (1797/99), undoubtedly one of the most direct, incisive and lean visual documents created by an artist during his times, extraordinary in its plastic conception and technical perfection.
Goya was appointed First Chamber Painter, reaching at the age of 53 the highest official recognition that an artist could expect during his lifetime. The next year, he began the collective portrait of Charles IV's family, that would bring his definite confirmation as an independent and anticonventional painter, at the same time as the rejection of his psychological and ideological interpretation by the portrayed royal family and his withdrawal from any new assignments imposed by it. The first years of the new century were years of intense work, principally portraits, and the illusion of a foreseeable political and cultural change.
The Spanish monarch abdicated in favor of his son because of political pressures from France. The French army of Napoleon occupied the country, and imposed Jos� Bonaparte as the new King of Spain. Goya, as well as other 30,000 family heads, swore "love and fidelity" to the foreign king. Our artist, as did many other liberals, trusted in the arrival of a new constitutional monarchy, in the profound transformation of society and customs, and in the consolidation of a cultural, rational and liberal atmosphere in Spain. But what had started as a "controlled" revolution that brought hope, was converted little by little into a mere justification of the expanding aspirations of Napoleon and in an open war of French conquest and Spanish independence. Goya, as well as the majority of enlightened and liberal Spaniards, suffered in his flesh and soul the contradictions and consequences of this conflict of ideas, with renovation and liberalism on one side and nationalism and resistance on the other, which undoubtedly embittered his character during the last decades of his life, reinforced his skepticism and filled with pessimism his most personal creations and existential and aesthetic reflections.
He began his cycle of drawings and etchings that would later be known as the series "Los Desastres de la Guerra", an exceptional visual document of the realities and consequences of all war, in which Goya confirmed with horror his stance as witness ("I have seen"), which he wrote at the bottom of some of the images.
His wife died.
He finished the Spanish Guerra de Independencia, coinciding with the deterioration of Napoleon's imperial power.
Fernando VII, Charles IV's son, returns, in whom all the Spanish nationalistic liberals who had resisted and defended the "Cadiz Constitution" had deposited all their hopes. But their illusions vanished promptly: the King ordered the abolishment of the Constitution, persecuted the liberals and initiated a severe purge of the "collaborators". Among them was Goya, who suffered relentless persecution and investigation from the "Palace" and the Inquisition. Those were sensitive years for the painter's situation: persecuted, forced into a great portrait activity to gain the favor of his protectors and accusers, in a country whose most reactionary side worsens, more lonely than ever and insecure because of the escape and exile of his liberal friends. Our artist worked on a new series of etchings, "La Tauromaquia", "Los Disparates", and isolated himself from the world and from his family (only comforted by the company of the young Leocadia Weiss).
He acquired a new residence, la "Quinta del Sordo", which was his last personal and artistic refuge. He had a serious illness which almost killed him.
At the age of 74, he began painting the walls of his house in a cycle of exceptional, clandestine, hermetic, esoteric and singular themes and images, "Las Pinturas Negras". With horrible scenes and characters, and certain disturbing allegories, Goya offered to us a bitter summary of his own painting and reason for being, a definite synthesis of his life, of the long time he had lived, of the many defeated or expulsed, of his doubts and of the doubts of others who, like him, believed in the triumph of the new world, and all this covered by a dense atmosphere of melancholy and sadness.
Alarmed by the anti-liberal reaction, Goya moved to France for "a mineral waters cure", putting distance between him and Spain, for his safety. He visited Paris and then settled, with Leocadia Weiss, in Bordeaux, where he met some of his best exiled friends. In a more tranquil atmosphere and with maximum illusion, he learned the technique of lithography and perfected his knowledge and expressive abilities in this recent graphic medium. "Los Toros de Burd�os" was to be the last cycle that Goya painted a little before his death.
He traveled briefly to Madrid to look after some family economic matters. At that time, besides drawings and lithographic proofs, Goya painted some of his best final paintings, especially portraits, among which was "La Lechera de Burdeos".
In the winter, he fell ill and his health deteriorated. At dawn, on April 16, at the age of 82, he died in his residence at Bordeaux, accompanied by a few friends, Leocadia Weiss, and his grandson, Mariano. A few days before, at the bottom of one of his drawings (possibly an idealized self portrait), he wrote: "I am still learning". The painter that had lived for so long and had seen so many things happen and before his very eyes, and who in such a personal and profound way had known how to express himself, considered his unequal contract with life finished. Far away from Spain.