The Dark Story Behind Francisco de Goya’s Bleak “Black Paintings”
November 21, 2017|María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Art historian Juan José Junquera published a book after years of research in which he claims that Goya's famous "Black Paintings" weren't actually painted by him but probably by his son Javier.
Together with Picasso, Miró, and Velázquez, Francisco de Goya is one of the most important painters in Spain. While all of these painters have a special place in art history due to their unique and innovative styles, Goya's boldness revolutionized the course of art. For instance, his famous Maja Desnuda was seen as an audacious work because his model was gazing directly at the spectator. Throughout his life, he was a very successful printmaker and one of the main chroniclers of his time. He spent most of his career working as the official royal painter of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII until he became a persona non grata after the latter was overthrown by Napoleon’s brother.
Two Old Men
Basically, Goya decided to continue working and made some paintings for Joseph I, so when Ferdinand returned to power he wasn’t very pleased with Goya, who decided to abandon court and get a small residence called Quinta del Sordo outside Madrid. Here’s the place where his bleakest paintings were produced. On the walls of his residence, Goya painted fifteen masterpieces that have been named “Black Paintings”. Only fourteen of these remain and are now part of the regular exhibition at the Prado Museum. Probably one of the most famous paintings of these settings, and even of Goya’s career is Saturn Devouring His Son. But what always has stricken his critics is the artist's radical change of style, colors, and themes. What happened to this artist who all of a sudden started painting everything dark?
Judith and Holofernes
It is known that he suffered from a terrible disease that left him almost deaf. Somehow critics just assumed that his deafness produced his bleakest paintings. However, others believe that there was much more than the disease behind the story. When Napoleon’s brother Joseph I overthrew the King, a terrible war started. Goya and many thousands of Spanish people experienced firsthand the horrors of this conflict: many deaths, murders, and devastation. Isn’t it more obvious and logical to think that experiencing all this would change someone’s perspective on life? Isn’t this more shocking and life-changing than having a disease? However, this isn't the full story behind Goya's "Black Paintings."
As I mentioned when Ferdinand returned to the throne, he wasn’t very pleased with Goya. In 1819 when he was in his seventies, he bought a house called Quinta del Sordo which literally means “house of the deaf.” Ironically this wasn’t the name he gave to the place. In fact, it already belonged to a deaf person. As I mentioned before, during the period he lived in this house, he painted this famous collection (1819-1823) but according to art historian Juan José Junquera, it’s kind of impossible for Goya to have actually painted them. Unlike many of his other paintings, these weren't either commissioned nor sold. Many believe this was just a gift the painter gave to himself and his family after he left the house. However, for Junquera there is more to the story than just the fact that he decorated the walls of the house with them.
Saturn Devouring His Son
Atropos (The Fates)
After studying many documents around Goya’s life, the art historian came to the conclusion that these paintings are fake. Based on the property's history and the purchase contract of the house, he determined that by the time Goya lived in here, it was only a one-story building. Now, if you look at the documentation regarding the paintings, you’ll see that these were found distributed throughout the two stories of the house. Now, according to the records of the property, the second floor was added after Goya’s death, when his grandson Mariano got the property. So, how could he have painted something over a wall that wasn’t even there during his life? And, more importantly, if he didn’t paint them, who did?
Fight with Cudgels
Besides the documentation of the house and the second floor that didn’t exist at the time, Junquera based his theory on the fact that there aren't too many references to the paintings at the time. This could be explained by the fact that these weren’t exhibited nor sold, but just mere decorations for his own house. However, Goya had so many important friends, so Junquera believes they would've mentioned his paintings after visiting the artist's house. Now, there are some contemporary records about the paintings. The first one by his friend and artist Antonio de Brugada, who during the 1820s (Goya died in 1828) described the paintings in both stories of the house. The second record was written a decade after by Valentín Carderera, and art collector who was shocked by the impressive artwork on Goya’s residence. While there are contemporary records about the paintings, Junquera's evidence is based on the building's documentation, so the question of who made these works still remains.
Two Old Ones Eating Soup
Procession of the Holy Office
According to Junquera, it’s quite probable that Goya’s son, Javier, was the author of the paintings. He was instructed in the art of painting by his father and even was sent to study abroad financed by the King of Spain. However, art wasn’t his main passion and made a living as a businessman. Yet that doesn’t mean he didn’t have the talent in him. The hypothesis is that when his son, Mariano, wanted to sell the house, he felt that Goya’s name would increase its price and just attributed those paintings to him. But is this enough to believe this whole theory? For many specialists on the artist, it’s not.
A Pilgrimage to San Isidro
Nigel Glendinning (professor emeritus at the University of London and a Goya specialist) is one of Junquera’s main detractors. For him, the fact that the second story of the house isn’t mentioned on the documents doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. It’s just an omission. Also, he claims that the style and technique correspond to that of the artist. Now, even if they weren’t his, according to Manuela Mena (curator at the Prado Museum), these paintings hold a huge artistic value, to the point that even Joan Miró once said that one of them was comparable in mastery with Velázquez' Las Meninas and added, "We cannot send The Dog to the museum basement because it was on the apparently non-existing second floor of the Quinta.''
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