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drowning in the silent dark

January 16, 2010

[Guernica] Even in the age of Modern art, there was never a painter as modern as Francisco Goya (1746-1828). A thinker, a painter to the Spanish Crown, a do-it-yourself/sell-it yourself printmaker almost 200 years before punk rockers took up the act, and a master draughtsman, Goya was a Renaissance man long after the Renaissance ended. But he was more than that. On the one hand, he was a court painter for Reformist Bourbon King Carlos III, and King Carlos IV. On the other, he was the creator of works of social satire and bitter criticism of contemporary Spanish life that had no place in the palace, including Los Caprichos, an at-times moralistic and at times humorous series of prints published in 1799, and the grotesque Disasters of War (1810), depicting the horrors of the Peninsular War and rivaling anything produced by 20th Century News correspondents for their graphic brutality.

Ironically, it was not until Goya was old, deaf, bitter, and driven half-mad by encephalitis, that he turned painting upside down, driving a stake into the old vampire of the Baroque and giving birth to Modern Art. Goya was 72 when he painted the walls of his home with 14 works, never meant for public view. Taken as a group, they are as dark as anything created in the history of art, and yet, they are so modern that later Spanish painters such as Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso took more than a Century to catch up with him. And none of them ever really matched Goya for combining thought, observation, passion and technical expertise.

But these comparisons are a stretch because there has never been an artist quite like Francisco Goya. Picasso was a painter, and remains perhaps the best known painter of all time. But Goya was a liberal, belonged to no artistic school, and was as interested in Enlightenment thought leaking out of Europe as he was in art. He condemned torture, willful ignorance and corruption while working away under the Spanish crown, a kind of contradictory behavior that seems impossible in today’s grabasstic art world. (read)

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