Goya depicted himself frequently throughout his life. The self-portraits in this
exhibition are focused around the artist’s brushes with death. Two works on paper
show him before and after his major illness of 1792–93, which left him deaf at age
forty-six. Another near-fatal illness at the end of 1819 is commemorated in his
moving Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. In most instances, Goya used his artistic
powers to facilitate a recovery. The self-portraits are followed by a selection of oil
portraits made in the last eight years of his life in Madrid, Paris, and Bordeaux.
Portraiture was at the center of Goya’s artistic production in Spain. As Court
Painter, he created brilliant images of his royal patrons as well as the leading proponents
of the Enlightenment and left behind a record of his age. He also painted
informal, intimate portraits of friends and family. In Goya’s last years, portraits
were an occasional exercise; most of them are private works made as tokens of
thanks to those who had helped him. His subjects are his friends and supporters,
a number of them fellow expatriates in France. These works are smaller in format
than the majority of his earlier portraits and were often painted in a single sitting.
Goya’s final portraits are remarkable for their psychological directness and simplified
means of representation. The figures are half or three-quarter length and set
against a neutral ground. The palette is generally monochromatic and detail is
minimized; nothing detracts from the concentration on the inner spirit of the sitter.
Flourishes of vigorous brush and palette knife strokes in the costumes set off a
more finely controlled technique in the faces of his subjects. Goya’s last portraits
have little in common with the polished illusionistic style of his younger contemporaries
in Spain or France, such as Vicente López, Ingres, or Delacroix. Instead,
they seem to anticipate the early modern works of Manet.
For more information about the works of art included in the exhibition and to see the related images, click on the following links: