Francisco de Goya (c. 1746-1828), had a slow start in his career as a painter. Although he began studying painting as a teen, he found his first bridges into making art in the Spanish court as a tapestry designer and a printmaker. He finally realized his goal of becoming a court painter in 1779, and soon after won admission into Madrid’s Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1780. Specializing in portraits and other commissioned works, Goya’s popularity skyrocketed in the royal court of Spain. His heyday, however, would soon be interrupted by illness and war. In 1792, he was ravaged by an illness that eventually left him deaf—his ailment would never fully heal, and he would have several relapses. Furthermore, the Spanish court in which the painter worked soon became caught up in the intrigues of Napoleon Bonaparte, resulting in the Peninsular War (1808-1814), a time when the Spaniards fought to remain independent of direct French control. Unfortunately for Spain, when the Spanish royalty returned to power under King Ferdinand VII in 1814, his reign turned out to be quite oppressive. Francisco de Goya, a sickly man living in a war-torn time, was greatly affected by these chaotic surroundings in which he lived during his later life.
Tired and disgusted by war and the increasingly hostile courtly life, Francisco de Goya gradually began to distance himself from the inner circle of power. The Peninsular War inspired him to begin etching and printing a series called Disasters of War, which depicted the carnage and cruelty of battle and oppression in all its gory detail. In 1814, these themes reappeared in his painting, Third of May 1808, an emotional piece that depicts Spanish freedom fighters being executed by French gunmen. Unfortunately for Goya, but of benefit to the art world, the painter’s dark descent did not end here with themes of war and bloodshed.
In 1819, Francisco de Goya purchased a country estate near Madrid that became known as La Quinta del Sordo (the House of the Deaf man). Around that same time, he suffered a major relapse of his persistent illness—his health deteriorated to such an extent that he became something of a hermit in his newly-acquired estate. Once Goya recovered enough to pick up the brush, he began painting right there in La Quinta del Sordo, embarking on a new phase of his artistic journey. Applying his paints directly to the plastered walls of his home, Francisco de Goya spent the years between 1820 and 1823 creating what is now called his “Black Paintings,” a series of fourteen dark, psychological, and macabre pieces of art, often involving grotesque facial expressions and eerie atmospheres. Among this uncanny set of paintings was the famous Saturn Devouring One Of His Children, and the diabolical Witches Sabbath, both of which can be found further down the page.
In 1824, Francisco de Goya abandoned La Quinta del Sordo, with its painted walls, and decided to spend the rest of his days in France. He relocated to Bordeaux, where he died in 1828 at 82 years old.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Below are a few of Francisco de Goya’s Black Paintings:
(A Pilgrimage to San Isidro)
(Witches Sabbath/ The Great He-Goat)
(Two Women Eating)
(Saturn Devouring One Of His Children)