Francisco Goya Biography

Francisco Goya was born in 1746 in a small town near Zaragoza. When he was 14 he began a 4 year apprenticeship to a local master, José Luzan. Goya then left for Madrid with the intention of winning a prize at the Academy of San Fernando. Although he didn’t win he met the court artist Francisco Bayeu who was to prove influential in forming Goya’s early style. Bayeu was heavily influenced by the German painter Anton Taphael Mengs and passed elements of this style on to Goya. Bayeu was also instrumental in Goya’s first involvement in a commission. This was the fresco decoration of the Church of the Virgin in El Pilar in Zaragoza.

Goya's The Third of May - El Tres de Mayo
Goya’s Tres de Mayo

From 1773, after spending a year in Italy, Goya worked on a number of other fresco projects including one for the Charterhouse of Aula Dei near Zaragoza. However, it was in 1798 that he worked on his greatest fresco project for the Church of San Antonio de la Florida, Madrid. Goya had now begun working on prints based on paintings by one of his two greatest sources of inspiration, Velázquez. Rembrandt was the other artist that Goya drew inspiration from.

Goya's Charles IV of Spain and His Family - La Familia de Carlos IV
Goya’s Charles IV of Spain and His Family

Goya began working on official portraits commissioned by King Charles III around 1786. One of his paintings from this time, Marquesa de Pontejos, is on display in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. He also worked on several tapestry cartoons depicting Spanish life and these revolutionized the Spanish tapestry industry. However, in the winter of 1792, Goya’s life took a dramatic turn when he became totally deaf after a serious illness. Not surprisingly this led to much of his subsequent work having a pessimistic air to it. He drew and etched the first in a series of prints, the satirical Los Caprichos (The Caprices). Others followed including the Desastres de la Guerra (Disasters of War), and Disparates (Absurdities).

Goya's La Maja Vestida
Goya’s La Maja Vestida

Goya had witnessed the horrors of war at first hand during the French occupation of Spain and he drew on this for two of the paintings that he completed in 1814. The Second of May, 1808 and Third of May, 1808 both depict brutal massacres of his countrymen by the French. The thick, bold strokes of dark colour that he used were typical of many of his later paintings. Another characteristic of Goya’s paintings towards the end of his life was that they had an openness and honesty, especially his portraits. His portrait, Family of Charles IV, portrays the Royals in a realistic manner and not idealized as many other artists did. It is on display in Madrid’s Prado Museum.

Goya's La Maja Desnuda
Goya’s La Maja Desnuda

Towards the end of his life Goya painted a series of fresco scenes on the walls of his country house. These were the Black Paintings and he used mainly blacks, browns and greys to depict scenes of witchcraft. Goya was evidently becoming depressed by the political situation in Spain and these paintings reflected his mood. He was forced to leave Spain in 1824 because of the oppression in his native land and moved to France. Goya began to pursue the then new art of lithography and he produced a series of bullfight scenes that are among the best lithographs ever made. He died in France in 1828.

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