Goya goes to Barcelona

Prado-La Caixa joint venture is first show of dark master in Catalan city for 35 years

A conservationist inspects the Goya painting El Pelele before it was hung for the CaixaForum exhibition in Barcelona.
A conservationist inspects the Goya painting El Pelele before it was hung for the CaixaForum exhibition in Barcelona. MARCEL-LÍ SÀENZ

Barcelona’s CaixaForum is hosting Goya: Light and Shadow, a didactic exhibition of almost 100 works that explores the main themes of the painter, who lived between 1746 and 1828 in chronological order.

A joint venture between La Caixa and Madrid’s Prado Museum, the exhibition includes some of Francisco de Goya’s best-known and most emblematic pieces such as The Clothed Maja, The Umbrella, Flying witches, and Still Learning. And the public is showing its appreciation of this displacement of the Aragonese painter’s work from the Spanish capital, with the Caixa Foundation reporting 10,000 visitors over the opening weekend.

Nearly two centuries after his death, Francisco de Goya continues to draw an interest matched by few painters. In part this is due simply to his genius, but also because much of his life remains shrouded in mystery and popular legend.

The works being shown in Barcelona have been selected with the intention of offering the visiting public a chronological survey of the work of Goya. Without aiming at being exhaustive, the exhibition is structured into different sections in the manner of small visual accounts that analyze the principal themes depicted by the artist during the course of a career that saw him develop from court painter to one of the precursors of modern painting through his unflinching depictions of war.

The result will be to present a series of fundamental ideas around which Goya’s artistic, political and social thinking was articulated. The different sections of the exhibition thus reflect the social reality of Goya’s life, in which monarchs, the social elite, his friends and the working people all played prominent roles.

The show also focuses on the thematic variety and impressive technique evident throughout Goya’s oeuvre in all the different media in which he worked, as well as the fact that he simultaneously produced official commissions and other works of a freer, more critical nature in response to his own expressive needs.

“It’s not an anthological exhibition of Goya, per se,” says the Prado’s director, Miguel Zugaza. “But it is an anthological exhibition of the Prado’s Goya collection: we have tried to tell his story through all the facets of his life: as a court painter, as a sketcher, as an engraver, and above all as a man of his times, and who was concerned about what was going on around him.”

This is the first Goya exhibition in Barcelona in 35 years, and Manuela B. Mena and José Manuel Matilla, the exhibition’s joint curators, say that they are expecting it to be a huge success between now and June 24, when it closes. The Caixaforum will be extending its visiting hours in expectation.

Mena says that she is very pleased with the approach that the organizers have taken. “It’s about Goya, but rather than simply telling the story of his life, we have tried to explore the way that he approached the different subjects he painted,” she says, highlighting for example that Goya was not a lover of bullfighting.

“Goya painted the world of bullfighting in the same way that he did war, and many of his works on the subject are his way of condemning it. They are highly critical of the way that the bull was killed,” says Mena, pointing out that bullfighting was prohibited by the authorities in the late 19th century because it was seen as endangering public order.

Goya’s depictions of public holidays are also a critique of the mores and customs of the times he lived in, says Mena, pointing to the sketches that the painter prepared for the series of tapestries he later created of The Madrid Fair, in which a washerwoman can be seen be dragged along by her husband while she points with her fan to a mirrored cabinet that she has taken a fancy to.

“Washerwomen were considered to be of easy virtue, and Goya uses the symbol to allude to feminine vanity,” she says. “The wealth of the collections devoted to Goya, which are almost a monographic museum within the Prado itself, has enabled us to stage an exhibition that is both highly representative and full of intensity,” Mena explains.

The exhibition also includes a letter written by Goya to his friend Martín Zapater and that includes a caricature of himself with his lower lip sticking out grotesquely, revealing his capacity for self-mockery.

An important aspect of the exhibition is its emphasis on Goya’s astonishing mastery of the different techniques employed in his paintings, drawings and prints, which laid the way for the subsequent liberation achieved by modern art. Visitors to the exhibition will also be able to appreciate technical and conceptual links between Goya and later artists that established a unique path and one that earned him the title of “first modern artist.”

Goya: Lights and Shadows is the first show planned as part of the joint exhibition program established by La Caixa Foundation and the Prado National Museum, the result of an agreement made between the two institutions last year.

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