A Goya Biography
For a timeline biography of Goya, go here.
Francisco Jose de Goya de Lucientes was born in Fuendetodos, in the province of Saragossa on the 30th of March in 1746. His parents were Joseph Goya and Gracia Lucientes. It is difficult, in the life of this painter to discern what is truth and what is legend, because fantasy and reality are mixed in this life as in no other.
His childhood was spent in Fuendetodos where his parents and brothers and sisters lived in the family house, which bore the family crest of his mother, and which was surrounded by the dry lands, treeless and waterless where his father practiced his trade of gilder.
About 1749 the family bought a house in the City of Saragossa and some years later finally went to live in it. Then Goya attended the Escuelas Pias, a School where he formed a close friendship with Martin Zapater, whom he was never to forget and whose correspondence with him has become valuable documentary evidence. He then entered the studio of Jose Lujan, Academic painter, from whom he learnt the elementary steps of painting. We do not know how this period of his life gave birth to the Goyesque legend which supposes him to have fought bulls at the local bull fighting festivals; to have strummed the guitar gaily; and to have loved so violently and so often, that one of these affairs forced him to leave Saragossa and move to Madrid.
Once arrived in the capital he studied with Mengs who was a popular painter of the Royal Court but once again he clashed with an academic painter and his final examinations were by no means satisfactory.
Suddenly he appeared in Rome (Italy), the legend grew: romances; strange adventures; desertions... But where did he get the money for his travels? It has been said that he earned it as a toreador, but it might just as well have been a generous gift from one of those families which had already then taken him under their wing: the Pignatelli family; the Goicoechea family; the Bayeu family...
Francisco Bayeu in whose studio Goya had learned the charm of construction and the art of colour, shortly after (1774) became Goya’s brother-in-law, for Goya married Josefa his teacher’s sister, or Pepa as Goya called her affectionately.
However, and going back a little, during his travels in Italy Goya was awarded the second prize in a painting competition organized by the City of Parma in January 1771. In that same year in autumn he returned to Saragossa where he painted a part of the cupola of the Basilica of the Pillar, frescoes of the oratory of the cloisters of Aula Dei, and the frescoes of the Sobradiel Palace. He continued to be the pupil of Bayeu but his painting was already beginning to show signs of the delicate tonalities which with time were to make him famous.
His marriage to Pepa gave him an introduction to the Royal Tapestry Workshop where in five years he designed about forty-two patterns for tapestry and settled down in the Court and discovered this prodigious world of noble and characteristic Spain. He painted a canvas for the altar of the Church of San Francisco El Grande and was appointed a member of the Academy of San Fernando.
In 1783 he succeeded in taking the first positive step in his courtly career: The Count of Floridablanca, favourite of King Carlos III, comissioned him to paint his portrait, and he also became an intimate with the Crown Prince Don Luis, and went to live in his house. A little later he also became friendly with the Duke and Duchess of Osuna, whom he painted, as he did finally also the King and all the most notable personages of the kingdom.
However the death of Carlos III in 1788 and the Revolution in neigbouring France in 1789 made him more of a Francophile and in the reign of Carlos IV Goya entered at last into his fullest splendour.
His painting has undeniable influences of Velazquez, according to Yradier, his first biographer, a noticeable thing in his large fullsome portraits, because also in Goya one finds atmosphere, light, life, power and delicacy of tone. Nevertheless Velazquez is nobler and has greater epic qualities, Goya is plainer. It is true that the epic quality had disapeared from the Court, for now no Phillip IV reigned but Carlos IV, there was now no Marianne of Austria but Maria Luisa of Parma, in place of the Duke of Olivares was Manuel Godoy.
In Goya’s works one sees a sincere realism which forgives nothing, and forgets nothing of the subject. He tyranised his subjects, forcing them to remain motionless for hours without even moving a muscle, tyranically portraying them on the canvas with the whole of their human reality; a mixture of fleshless satire and boldness, many times even entering into caricature. Among his portraits those of King Carlos IV and Queen Maria Luisa stand out, but we must not forget those of Duque Fernan Nunez, the Duchess of Alba, etc., with whom he is supposed to have had a passionate affair the details of which even now are not clear, and which might well belong once more to the realm of legend.
In 1792 Goya, after an illness, was left absolutely deaf from then on his interior world had to feed itself on light and shadow and emotions, and began to populate itself with feelings, longings, and ghosts. His character became more withdrawn and introspective and his entire vitality was directed to hispainting.
In 1799 he was appointed the Royal Painter with a salary of 50,000 reales and 500 ducats for a coach. He worked, by Royal Order, on the cupola of the Hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida; he painted the King and the Queen, Royal family pictures, portraits of Princess de la Paz and many other nobles. Prosperity had arrived, money in abundance, silver plate, canvases by Velazquez, Correggio, and Tintoretto, all were his. Nevertheless his time was unquiet and his unsettled nerves added to his deafness, made him restless. His character became embittered which is shown in Los Caprichos, a collection of prints finished about 1803 in which he censured society, the morality of the customs, and the falsities of human life. This work is hard, full of pain and populated with freaks; those freaks and monsters which began to show their presence in the paintings he made of San Francisco de Borja, in the Cathedral of Valoncia (1788) which culminated in the walls in the House of the Deaf.
Later the Peninsular war impinged on his conciousness. The new Court of Jose I received him as had its predecessors and he accepted it in his turn, always unconcerned with politics and their consequences. When his wife Pepas died in 1812 Goya was painting his most famous canvases: The Charge of the Mamelukes and The Executions of the 3 May in La Moncloa, as well as the series of The Disasters of the Wars.
Eventually Ferdinand VII came back to Spain but his relations with Goya were not of the most cordial. It was then 1814, at that time the artist was living with his cousin and her daughter, Rosario Weiss, whom he loved madly. He continued to work incessantly: portraits, pictures of Santa Justa and Santa Rufina, lithographs, pictures of tauromachy, etc....
But with the idea of isolating himself from everything he bought a house on the outskirts of Manzanares, which became known as the House of the Deaf. There, more enclosed within himself than ever he produced the famous Black Pictures, a series showing all his genius in fantasmagorical, dark and terrible visions, a low class madrilenan woman, two friars, Saturn Devouring his sons, The Witches’ Sabbath, The Reading, The Fates, Two men Fighting with Cudgels, etc....
Always unsettled and discontented he left Spain in May 1824.
He visited first Bordeaux and then Paris and finally took up residence in the former, probably due to the number of ex-patriate Spaniards who lived there. His relations with Dona Leocadia, the cousin who has already been mentioned, seem not to have been very friendly. Goya suffered, not knowing what he was waiting for, nor even what he wanted. Was he perhaps a man who like so many others had lost faith and was in, what we now call a trifle cynically, a crisis of existensialism?
After suffering from another period of ill health he decided to return to Spain, where he arrived in May 1826. He was met by his son Francisco Javier who went with him everywhere, but in spite of this welcome which he received some quirk made him decide to return to Bordeaux. Who knows what went on in this strange, twisted, mentality of this great genius?
Thus he went on, alone, locked in the closed room of his deafness, always waiting for something which never seemed to arrive. One day he received a letter from Francisco Javier announcing a visit. Emotional as he was, the pleasure he received caused to become over excited which perhaps was the cause of the illness which immediately struck down. On April 16 died Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, Genius and Artist.
© Copyright 1961 Ediciones Minos
More articles about Goya's life and times are on the bio page
[Note: This English text is apparently a translation from either French or Spanish. The word usage is a bit unusual and the spelling esoteric in places, but it is faithful to the 1961 edition of the book it is from.]