Famous Painters and Paintings: Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes

About the famous painter Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, his biography and history of the artist.


When the aged Goya was in exile in France, he used to entertain his friends with tales of his wild youth. He had fled from home, he said, because of a fatal street fight. In Rome, caught in an escapade, he avoided the death penalty only through the intervention of the Spanish ambassador. One dark night in Madrid, he had been knifed in the back. None of these stories can be documented and they are possibly the romanticizing of an old man, but they show that Goya wanted to be remembered as hotheaded and impetuous, taking full part in the life around him.

Goya was born in the little village of Fuendetodos, near Saragossa, and little is known of his early training besides possible instructions by his father, Jose, a gilder, and an apprenticeship with Jose Luzan, a parish church painter. He developed his art slowly, failing twice in a competition for a scholarship to the Madrid Academy. After studying in Italy for 2 years, Goya returned to Spain and became the pupil of Francisco Bayeu and in 1773, he married his teacher's sister, Josefa. Unquestionably this connection with Bayeu helped Goya launch his painting career. Soon after, his brother-in-law persuaded Raphael Mengs, the director of the Royal Tapestry Factory in Madrid, to hire Goya. During the next 17 years, he was to paint more than 60 designs, learning to paint gay fresh colors and clear-cut lights. His art attracted royal attention and he was appointed director of the Royal Academy of Art in 1780. Later he became painter to the court.

What he thereupon did to his royal master and his master's family is one of the most scandalous incidents in the history of art. Goya, in a single portrait of King Charles and his family, did more to destroy royal prestige than all the diatribes of the journalists of the early days of the French Revolution. What makes this incident so deplorable is that neither the King and Queen nor any of their ministers seemed aware of Goya's brutal betrayal of the concept of divine right in this portrait.

Goya's reputation as a rapid painter spawned a wild story concerning the famous portrait of the Duchess of Alba. Reportedly, when the Duchess's husband was advised of the scandalous portrait, he announced that he would visit the artist to defend his honor as a Spanish grandee. But when he arrived at the studio the following day, there was his wife's picture showing the lady decently dressed. The versatile artist was supposed to have painted a 2nd portrait overnight to appease the wrath of the infuriated husband.

As he grew older, Goya became increasingly sensitive to the world in which he lived. The passions of mankind dismayed him and he was deeply shaken by the fury the Spanish War unleashed. He translated his inner turmoil into paintings--everything he had seen and done and all the thoughts that troubled him.

In 1822, when he was well past 70, he suddenly left his native land and moved to Bordeaux where, 2 years later, he died. During the last years of his life he became completely deaf, but his eyesight remained clear to the end. And what those eyes had seen, his hand had faithfully revealed on canvas.

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