REVIEW: Goya vs Delacroix, battle of the contrasts

round 1 – GOYA

A double bill at Barcelona’s CaixaForum: Spanish icon Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) and his French counterpart Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), utterly distinctive artists, comparable in their contrasts. Each broached grim, often violent subject matter imaginatively, manipulating colour and tone to heighten emotion to make fantastical scenes seem real.

Francisco de Goya - A self-portrait of the Artist, 1771-75Goya, portrait painter to the royal courts of Carlos III and IV, lived through times that would drive anyone mad. At the height of his career an illness left him stone deaf, and while he continued with commissioned works he also began to produce series upon series of dark, introspective aquatinted etchings, in which he documented an ignorant and immoral society with unflinching acuity.

Francisco de Goya - Tu que no puedes, 1797

In a series of prints called Caprichos (1799) Goya used points of white to pierce darker areas so that the eye draws his scenes together making them seem believable, despite the wild subject matter: a carnival of cannibals, animals and witches (Tu que no puedes, 1797).

His portraits are even more remarkable, given that they were paid for by his subject matter.

Francisco de Goya - Carlos IV - de rojo, 1789Overtly plump and self-satisfied, drooling and ignorant, Charles IV looks like an overstuffed chicken ready for the slaughter (Carlos IV – de rojo, 1789), and he finished them by candlelight so that figures seem illuminated on hazy, menacing backdrops, where mysterious cloaked figures – or the mere suggestion of them – lurk (La Feria de Madrid, 1778-9).

How he got away with it seems to prove all the points he is trying to make. For his famous La Maja nude, c.1800 (the clothed version on show) he was dragged up before the Spanish Inquisition, without further repercussions.

Francisco de Goya - Enterrar y Callar, 1910-14From 1808 to 1815, violence and famine wracked the country as revolutionary-turned-imperialist, Napoleon Bonaparte, battled with Spain. Of this Goya produced a seething set of prints, Los Desastres de la Guerra, published after his death. Scenes depict reciprocal, interminable violence irrelative of status, nationality or gender (Enterrar y callar, 1910-14). In 1824, Goya went into self-imposed exile in Bordeaux, France. There, until his death, in 1828, he famously daubed demons on the walls of his home …

The exhibition Francisco de Goya – Luces y Sombras is at Barcelona’s CaixaForum until June 24, 2012

Eugène Delacroix - A self-portrait of the Artist, 1837Click here to read about French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, also at CaixaForum until May 20, 2012.

Thank you to: Mary Acton Learning to Look at Paintings (Routledge, 1997).