LONDON.- The Courtauld Gallery
presents a ground-breaking exhibition which reunites for the first time all of the known drawings from one of Goyas celebrated private albums. At the age of 50, the great Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya (1746 1828) suffered a near fatal illness that left him deaf and profoundly changed his life and work. Alongside his public role as court painter to the Spanish crown, Goya began to create albums of drawings. In these albums the artist recorded his private ideas and thoughts through drawings that often explore human nature at its most vulnerable - our dreams, nightmares, superstitions and mortality.
The albums were never intended to be seen beyond a small circle of friends. This gave Goya the freedom to create images which range from the humorous, to the macabre and the bitingly satirical. He produced eight albums, (known by the letters A to H), each offering rich insights into the private world of his boundless imagination. Never before have any of these albums been reunited. This exhibition is the first to do so by bringing together all the drawings from the Witches and Old Women Album.
All eight of Goyas albums were broken up after his death in 1828 and their pages are now scattered in museums and private collections. The original order of the Witches and Old Women Album was lost and along with it an understanding as to whether it was developed as a single project or was the result of Goyas accumulation of individual drawings. As a result of close technical study by the curatorial team and contributing museums, the exhibition presents a reconstruction of the original sequence of the drawings, gaining valuable new insights into the nature of Goyas albums.
The Witches and Old Women Album is thought to have been made in 1819-23, the period when Goya had acquired the property outside Madrid where he completed the famous murals known as the Black Paintings. With its themes of witchcraft, dreams and nightmares, the album offers an important perspective on the development of Goyas interest in old age, the fantastic and the diabolical. Above all, the drawings reveal his penetrating observation of human nature. Goyas insights were coloured by his experience of the turbulent years of Spanish history, including the catastrophic war between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Spanish nation. In 1824, soon after the album is thought to have been completed, he left Spain for exile in Bordeaux.
Superstitions and witchcraft
Central to the album is Goyas lifelong fascination with superstition and witchcraft. Its first page, which Goya titled They descend quarrelling, was recently rediscovered and introduces a sequence of spirited drawings showing figures levitating, flying and tumbling through the air, sometimes with erotic abandon. Distinctly more sinister are the Dream of a good witch, showing a decrepit old hag carrying a bundle of babies on her back, and the macabre Wicked woman, one of the most disturbing of all Goyas drawings.
Sleep and dreams
The album includes a range of images exploring sleep, dreams and altered psychological states. In Nightmare, a figure tumbles headlong down a cliff face. Nightmare is also the title of a striking drawing from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in which a mischievously grimacing crone balances on her shoulders two skeletal old men perhaps alluding to her continuing sexual vitality. A more directly humorous treatment of sleep is evident in I can hear snoring. Following his illness and loss of hearing, Goya developed a strong interest in lunacy. A powerful drawing entitled Madness shows a figure in a fools cap appealing to us with arms outspread whilst constrained behind a railing.
The passions and problems of old age form the final group in the album. Worn-out by age but undaunted, the elderly woman in What folly, still to be thinking of marriage dreams of an impossible future; she is part of Goyas long critique of the subject of marriage. In She talks to her cat Goya gently satirises a lonely old woman. The final surviving page of the album is also its most poignant: Cant go on any longer at the age of 98 from the Getty Museum shows an ancient figure leaning heavily on two sticks shuffling across an expanse of blank paper. This drawing exemplifies Goyas ability to convey extraordinary subtleties of emotion, often achieved with the most abbreviated touches of ink on the paper.
Exceptionally, all twenty-two surviving drawings from the Witches and Old Women Album have been made available for the exhibition. The exhibition also features outstanding related drawings from other albums. These include celebrated examples from the Black Border Album such as the Nightmare from the Morgan Library and Museum, and the brilliantly conceived Showing off? Remember your age from Berlin. The exhibition also explores parallels with Goyas prints, including the themes of witchcraft, dreams and human folly. These include his iconic: The sleep of reason produces monsters, presented in the exhibition in a historic bound volume of the famous Caprichos. In total 16 museums are lending to the exhibition, alongside several private collections.
Dr. Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of The Courtauld Gallery said: This major exhibition will provide a milestone in the study of Goyas drawings and a possible template for future study. I am sure that visitors will be enthralled by this view of a very private and personal Goya.
The exhibition is curated by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, one of the foremost authorities on Goya, and Stephanie Buck, Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings at The Courtauld Gallery.