Goya’s understated portrait of the woman known as María Martínez de Puga, acquired by Henry Clay Frick in 1914, was the inspiration for The Frick Collection’s special exhibition Goya’s Last Works. It was the first show in the United States to concentrate exclusively on the final phase of Goya’s long career — the years of the artist’s voluntary exile in Bordeaux from 1824 to 1828. Fifty-one examples of Goya’s final production were borrowed from public and private European and North American collections. This ensemble of drawings, paintings, miniatures on ivory, and lithographs demonstrated the vitality and irrepressible creativity of an artist who, at age seventy-eight, pulled up roots in Madrid, his home for the preceding half century, and started over in France.
Goya’s departure from Spain was prompted by Ferdinand VII’s restoration to the throne in 1823 and the brutal repression of Liberals that followed. Settling in the vibrant port city of Bordeaux, Goya found companionship among friends old and new in a large community of Spanish exiles. There he created a brilliant coda to the significant body of work he had produced in Spain for both royal patrons and proponents of the Enlightenment. Included in the exhibition were eight portraits on canvas dating from 1820 to 1827, which reveal the technical freedom, daring simplicity, and penetrating insight into character that typify his final works in this genre. They were complemented by a group of extraordinary miniature paintings on tiny plaques of ivory, executed in a technique of Goya’s own invention. A selection of lithographs, including the series of four prints known as the Bulls of Bordeaux — considered the first masterpieces of the new medium — demonstrated his restless will to experiment and expand the boundaries of his art, despite advanced age and poor health. Drawings from Goya’s two Bordeaux albums allowed the viewer to follow his unedited thoughts — his reminiscences of Spain; witty observations of Bordeaux’s street life; preoccupation with longstanding themes of human folly, madness, and witchcraft; and indulgence in pure fantasy—and attest to his unflagging imagination and powerful will to sustain his life through art.
Goya’s Last Works was organized by Jonathan Brown, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Frick Curator Susan Grace Galassi. Goya’s Last Works was accompanied by a full-color catalogue published by Yale University Press.