The Frick Collection
Goya's Last Works
 
Special Exhibition: Goya's Last Works
 

Goya's Last Works
February 22 through May 14, 2006

  Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), Doña María Martínez de Puga, 1824, The Frick Collection, New York
  Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), Portrait of a Lady (María Martínez de Puga?), 1824, The Frick Collection, New York

Goya’s luminous 1824 portrait of the woman known as María Martínez de Puga has always held a special place in the artist’s oeuvre as one of his most direct and candid works, radical in its simplicity. Acquired by Henry Clay Frick in 1914, the painting is the inspiration for The Frick Collection’s special exhibition, Goya’s Last Works, the first in the United States to concentrate exclusively on the final phase of Goya’s long career, primarily on the period of the artist’s voluntary exile in Bordeaux from 1824 to 1828. The Frick presents fifty-one objects — including paintings, drawings, miniatures on ivory, and lithographs — borrowed from public and private Spanish and American collections. These works reveal 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. The description by one music critic of the late piano sonatas of Beethoven (Goya’s contemporary) as occupying a middle ground between “no longer” and “not yet” could also be applied to Goya’s final production. It has little in common with that of his contemporaries in France and Spain and had almost no impact on the generations that immediately followed; in fact, it remained little known until the early twentieth century. It is only in retrospect that one can appreciate the extent to which a work such as the Frick’s María Martínez de Puga seems to anticipate the stark modernist style of Manet.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes has been referred to as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns. He was born in 1746 near Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon. His father was a master gilder and his mother a member of the minor aristocracy. Goya received his early training with the local artist José Luzán. By 1774 he was settled in Madrid, where he eventually rose to the post of Painter to the King, serving in various capacities under the last three Bourbon monarchs (Charles III, Charles IV, and Ferdinand VII) as well as Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Joseph, who ruled during the French occupation of 1808–13. For his royal patrons, Goya produced tapestry cartoons depicting vivid scenes of everyday life, religious paintings and frescoes, and official portraits to which he brought his unerring eye for character analysis. He also painted inventive portraits inspired by English models of the men and women of the Spanish Enlightenment, among them the duke of Osuna, whose image from the 1790s was acquired by The Frick Collection in 1943. Through contact with his sitters, Goya absorbed the liberal ideas flooding into Spain from France and England.

A catastrophic illness in 1792–93 left the forty-six-year-old Goya totally deaf for the rest of his life. His work now took a more inward turn, and he began to delve more deeply into his imagination, exploring in small paintings and prints such subjects as superstition, dreams, madness, and sadism. By 1799, he had completed his prodigiously inventive series of etchings Los Caprichos (The Caprices), a satire on man’s follies and vices, which radiates the spirit of the Enlightenment.

The last decade of the eighteenth century and early years of the nineteenth century were marked by great political instability and antagonism between progressive and conservative forces. Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808 and the forced abdications of Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII initiated five years of French occupation and continual patriot resistance. Beginning in 1810, Goya commemorated the horrific events of the Peninsular War with his series of prints, The Disasters of War, a searing indictment of man’s brutality to man. With the retreat of the French in 1813, many of Joseph Bonaparte’s sympathizers left Spain, a large number of them settling in Bordeaux. A constitutional monarchy had been declared in 1812, but with the return to power of Ferdinand VII in 1814, the constitution was abolished, and a period of absolutism and repression followed.

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta, 1820, oil on canvas, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund  
Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta, 1820, oil on canvas, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund  

In 1819, the artist, then seventy-two and widowed for some years, sought a more secluded life and moved from Madrid to the Quinta del Sordo, a house on the outskirts of the city, a transition that marks the beginning of his late period. Living with him were his much younger companion, Leocadia Zorrilla y Weiss, and her two small children, Rosario and Guillermo. Toward the end of the year, Goya suffered another near-fatal illness and commemorated the experience in his Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta of 1820, one of his most original and moving works. The artist portrays himself as pale and lifeless, supported on the arm of his vital young physician. A kind of secular ex-voto, the painting bears a lengthy inscription in which Goya thanks his friend for saving his life. From this year until his death in 1828, Goya would use the tools of his profession as weapons to fight the battle against poor health and old age.

  Goya, Don Tiburcio Pérez y Cuervo, the Architect, 1820, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Theodore M. Davis Collection. Photography credit: Photograph ©1988 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  Goya, Don Tiburcio Pérez y Cuervo, the Architect, 1820, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Theodore M. Davis Collection. Photography credit: Photograph © 1988 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A military coup in 1820 reinstated the constitution of 1812 and rendered the monarchy impotent, and a three-year liberal interlude and period of optimism followed. Goya recovered his health, and his renewed energies are immediately manifest in his portrait of the architect Tiburcio Pérez y Cuervo. Goya captured his young friend in vigorous strokes of his brush and palette knife in subdued tones of black, gray, and white, with a touch of red. Standing before us in his shirtsleeves, glasses in hand, Pérez embodies the spirit of a new era in his casual stance, black and white attire, and stylish disarray. The restrained palette, energetic brush work, and vivid sense of the sitter’s presence would become characteristic of Goya’s final style in portraiture.

Goya painted only one other portrait between 1820 and 1823, but, in a burst of creative activity, he covered the walls of the Quinta del Sordo with fourteen phantasmagoric scenes known as the Black Paintings. In 1823, Ferdinand VII returned to power, letting loose a brutal purge of Liberals, who fled to France in legions in order to escape his persecution. Although Goya’s political sympathies were with the Liberals, he was treated with generosity by the king and was granted permission for health reasons to take the waters in Plombières in France. Distrustful of the situation, however, the artist took advantage of the leave to join his friends in the thriving Spanish expatriate community in Bordeaux, where he spent the last four years of his life.

Goya, Bullfighting Scene , 1824, oil on canvas, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles  
Goya, Bullfighting Scene , 1824, oil on canvas, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles  

Goya arrived in Bordeaux in late June 1824 “deaf, old, clumsy and weak . . . without knowing a word of French and without bringing a servant (which no one needs more than he), and so content and so desirous of seeing the world,” as one compatriot reported. Three days later, he was off to Paris to spend the summer. There he explored the city, trailed by the French police, who kept files on political refugees from Spain. Undoubtedly, he saw works on view by Ingres (thirty-four years his junior), Delacroix (who owned some of his prints), and other notable artists of the day. While in Paris, Goya painted the small, powerful bullfight that appears above and on the cover or our most recent Members' Magazine. The work, which emphasizes the brutal, sacrificial aspects of the spectacle, was created as a gift for the Spanish Liberal exile and businessman Joaquín María de Ferrer y Cafranga, who commissioned the artist to paint portraits of himself and his wife that same summer. (These works are included in the exhibition.)

In early September, Goya settled in Bordeaux and was soon after joined by Leocadia and her children. (Leocadia remained with Goya until his death, while his legitimate family — his son, Javier; his daughter-in-law, Gumersinda; and his grandson, Mariano — stayed behind in Madrid; the two families would later clash over Goya’s estate.)

  Goya, Leandro Fernández de Moratín, 1824, oil on canvas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao
  Goya, Leandro Fernández de Moratín, 1824, oil on canvas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao
Photography credit: ©de la fotografía Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

Goya’s first sitter in Bordeaux was the poet and playwright Leandro Fernández de Moratín, one of his closest comrades, whose piquant letters to friends back home provide evocative details of the painter’s life in the cosmopolitan port. As is characteristic of the portraits of this period, the poet’s generous form is arranged in a simple composition, silhouetted against a neutral ground. Painted in somber tones and freely brushed, the work focuses on the inner spirit of the man as reflected in his thoughtful, melancholic expression. Goya painted other portraits in Bordeaux, mainly of his expatriate friends, but, approaching eighty, he also was eager to take risks and explore new media. In a letter of December 20, 1825, to Joaquín María de Ferrer y Cafranga, Goya described some of his recent experiments, concluding, “You should thank me for these few bad words because I have no eyesight, pulse, pen or ink. I lack everything and the only thing I have in excess is willpower.”

 
Goya, Bullfighting Scene , 1824, oil on canvas, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
 
  Goya, Maja and Celestina, 1824–25, carbon black and watercolor on ivory, private collection. Photography credit: Robert Lorenzson   Goya, Man Looking for Fleas in His Shirt, 1824–25, carbon black and watercolor on ivory, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, M. and M. Karolik Fund. Photography credit: © 2006 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The painter was describing his experiments in the art of miniature painting, which he took up during the winter of 1824–25. His interest in the art form was inspired most likely by the work of Weiss’s daughter, the ten-year-old Rosario. Goya’s improvised technique and subject matter, however, have little in common with conventional miniatures. To begin, the artist covered a tiny ivory chip with carbon black, then applied a drop of water to create shapes, which he developed into figures with touches of watercolor, scratching lines into the surface with a sharp instrument. Perhaps an old procuress and her young charge would emerge, as in the exquisite Maja and Celestina, or a man delousing himself. These marvelous little improvisations share the subject matter of Los Caprichos; nine of them have been brought together in this exhibition.

Goya, Bullfighting Scene , 1824, oil on canvas, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles  
Goya, Spanish Entertainment, 1825, crayon lithograph on paper, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund. Photography credit: © 1994 The Metropolitan Museum of Art  

Lithography had been invented only at the end of the eighteenth century, and Goya had tried it without great success before leaving Madrid. With the Bordeaux lithographer Cyprien Gaulon, whose superb portrait is in the show, Goya now mastered the technique, creating the famous series of four large prints depicting scenes of bullfighting known as the Bulls of Bordeaux. As with his miniatures, he adapted the technique to his own ends. He placed the lithographic stone upright on an easel and created the scene with a blunt crayon, scraping away areas to make highlights. The furious energy of Goya’s late style is evident in such works as Spanish Entertainment from the Bulls of Bordeaux, a scene of foolhardy amateurs playing at being toreros. Here, bulls and gesticulating figures, some depicted in a realistic manner, others as mere notations, fuse together in a frenzied chain of action. The tilted perspective of the scene enhances its dynamism.

Nowhere is Goya’s irrepressible verve more evident than in his drawings, the favorite medium of his last years. The largest section of the exhibition is devoted to works from his two final private albums. These personal (as opposed to preparatory) drawings, which Goya had begun to create not long after losing his hearing in the early 1790s, have been described as a form of “talking to himself”; in them he put down his unedited thoughts, observations, and fantasies. In Bordeaux, Goya switched from the more precise medium of pen, brush, and ink to greasy black crayon, undoubtedly inspired by his work in lithography. This soft, forgiving medium allowed for greater breadth of execution and velvety tonal effects; it also may have compensated for the artist’s diminishing eyesight and manual dexterity. On his walks through the city, Goya took note of its singular inhabitants, such as legless old beggars or fairground freaks (see Fair in Bordeaux, Female Giant; below) or entertaining characters, such as the reckless roller skater (below). His style is energetic and cartoonish rather than classical, with bodies in exaggerated poses and states of emotion. He also returned to past themes, such as witchcraft and madness (see Raging Lunatic; below), and made puzzle pictures in which the meaning is left deliberately ambiguous (see Entanglements of Their Lives; below). Other drawings, such as Man on a Swing (below), directly address the leitmotif that underlies all of his last works: the gravity-defying forces of creativity, humor, and perseverance against the entropy of old age. These inspiring images serve as the final testament of one who had seen it all and was, in his own words, “still learning.” — Susan Grace Galassi, Curator

Goya, Raging Lunatic, 1824-28, black crayon on paper, private collection
Goya, Man on a Swing, 1824-28, black crayon on paper, The Hispanic Society of America, New York. Photography credit: Roberto Sandoval; courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America, New York
Goya, Se quieren mucho (They Love Each Other Very Much), 1824-28, black crayon on paper, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Photography credit: ©Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Goya, Raging Lunatic, 1824–28, black crayon on paper, private collection
Goya, Man on a Swing, 1824–28, black crayon on paper, The Hispanic Society of America, New York. Photography credit: Roberto Sandoval; courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America, New York
Goya, Se quieren mucho (They Love Each Other Very Much), 1824–28, black crayon on paper, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Photography credit: ©Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Goya, Feria en Bordeaux (Fair in Bordeaux, Female Giant), 1824-28, black crayon on paper, The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Gift of Gertrude Weyhe Dennis in honor of Felice Stampfle on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Morgan Library and the 50th anniversary of the Association of Fellows, 1999.20  The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
Goya, Crazy Skates, 1824-28, black crayon on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Arthur Tracey Cabot Fund. Photography credit: ©2006 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Goya, Enredos de sus vidas (Entanglements of Their Lives), 1824-28, black crayon on paper, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photography credit: ©National Gallery of Canada
Goya, Feria en Bordeaux (Fair in Bordeaux, Female Giant), 1824–28, black crayon on paper, The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Gift of Gertrude Weyhe Dennis in honor of Felice Stampfle on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Morgan Library and the 50th anniversary of the Association of Fellows, 1999.20 ©The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
Goya, Crazy Skates, 1824–28, black crayon on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Arthur Tracey Cabot Fund. Photography credit: © 2006 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Goya, Enredos de sus vidas (Entanglements of Their Lives), 1824–28, black crayon on paper, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photography credit: ©National Gallery of Canada

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 is accompanied by a full-color catalogue published by Yale University Press, which is available in the Museum Shop.


Principal funding for Goya's Last Works has been provided by the Robert Lehman Foundation, with major support from Merrill Lynch; Melvin R. Seiden in honor of Jonathan Brown and Susan Grace Galassi; The Widgeon Point Charitable Foundation; Mr. and Mrs. Walter A. Eberstadt; The Samuel H. Kress Foundation; and The Getty Grant Program of The J. Paul Getty Trust. The catalogue has been generously underwritten by Lawrence and Julie Salander and made possible, in part, by Furthermore: A Program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund. Support for scholarly programming has been provided by the Arthur Ross Foundation. Additional support has been provided by The Helen Clay Frick Foundation and the Fellows of The Frick Collection.

This exhibition is also supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.