Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Goya: the `hinge figure' between modernism and classicism

Robert Hughes says there were many different Goyas, but asserts his significance as one of the world's greatest artists is indisputable


In fact, as Goya's work grew more inward and expressionistic, it became freighted with nightmare visions: a picador being horribly gored and tossed by a furious bull; shipwreck survivors gasping for life in a roiling sea; murderous bandits threatening a group of terrified travelers; madmen crudely gesticulating in a prisonlike asylum; women being raped and murdered in a cavernous void.

Witches -- emblems of the superstitions many in Enlightenment-era Spain still clung to -- proliferate in Los Caprichos, and his oeuvre serves up other bizarre, enigmatic images as well: a huge, muscular giant rising over the Spanish landscape, like a god of war; a cadaver holding a piece of paper emblazoned with the single word "Nada" ("Nothing"); a quartet of hideous creatures -- perhaps the three Fates or Daughters of the Night, with a victim -- hovering over a chilly river landscape.

Many of the most alarming images belong to the Black Paintings, which covered the walls of Goya's farmhouse outside Madrid. They are images that reflect the despair Goya and other liberals felt after King Fernando VII was restored to the Spanish throne, and all that that event inevitably meant: "A weak but still absolute tyranny, the Church in the saddle, the Inquisition back, the Constitution erased."

Although a professor of art history has recently questioned Goya's authorship of those paintings, Hughes clearly has no patience for such theories, arguing that the works are "not only among the most dramatic painted images Goya ever made," but also his "most private by far": "He had no audience in mind. He was talking to himself."

Those paintings, like Los Caprichos and Los Desastres, attest to both Goya's radical modernity and his enduring mythic power -- his identity, as Hughes puts it in this galvanic volume, as "a true hinge figure, the last of what was going and the first of what was to come."

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