For lovers of art history, Spain is a veritable treasure trove. It’s impossible to single out, for example, one painter to admire. However, this artist might be of particular interest since he bridges the gap between early modern and 20th century art: Francisco Goya (1746-1828).
Goya was inspired by Velázquez and Spain’s Golden Age in some works; like his role model, he was a courtly painter for the royal family. Other parts of Goya’s oeuvre, however, served as inspiration for Picasso’s overtly political art or the visceral paintings of Francis Bacon.
As an art-loving tourist in Spain, you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to see some of Goya’s masterpieces. While his works are spread all across Spain, from Santander to Cádiz, from Compostela to Valencia, you’ll glean the best impressions of Goya’s art from the excellent collections in Madrid and Zaragoza, the capital of his native Aragón.
At the Prado
The Museo del Prado in Madrid is a must-see anyway. One of the finest art museums in the world, it houses a wealth of masterpieces especially from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. As far as Goya is concerned, you can take in two very distinct periods of his work here.
The early portraits of Spanish nobility and royalty, as well as bucolic scenes intended for tapestry decorations in the royal apartments, form a sharp contrast to the Prado rooms dedicated to the so-called Black Paintings (1819-23). The latter are a series of murals that once decorated the walls of Goya’s villa outside Madrid. They were transmitted to canvas much later, decades after the artist’s death.
Bleak, haunting, and fantastical in subject matter (e.g. "The Witches’ Sabbath", "The Fates"), private and obscure in meaning, the Black Paintings seem to prefigure expressionism by two centuries. They may also indicate Goya’s rather morbid sense of humor. The most famous of the series, the grotesque "Saturn Devouring His Children", is said to have adorned … his dining room!
A similar distinction between the artist’s youthful and more mature creations is very much noticeable in Zaragoza. Regardless of your interest in Goya, the city is well worth visiting: It’s famous for its beautiful Mudéjar (Arab) architecture, its vibrant nightlife, and the exuberant Fiestas del Pilar. Art enthusiasts should also take advantage of its association with Goya’s life and works.
At the nearby Aula Dei Charterhouse, you can still see religious frescos depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. Expressive of a fairly conventional piety, these were created by Goya in the 1770s. For something rather different, you should stop by Zaragoza’s Museo Ibercaja Camón Aznar.
This museum presents a variety of Goya’s prints. In The Follies (1799), a satirical series of etchings, he ridicules the Catholic Church, makes fun of the aristocracy, and condemns superstition and anti-rationalism. All in all, The Follies are proof of Goya’s commitment to the ideals of enlightened liberalism.
The Disasters of War (1810-20) are quite another matter. They are not as well-known as his painting in the Prado, "The Second of May", which shows the execution of anti-French insurgents in Madrid. However, they may be an even more drastic and pessimist reaction to the horrors unleashed by the Napoleonic Wars in Spain. Goya doesn’t show any battles, only atrocities and victims.
Even the end of the war in 1814 brought no end to his disillusionment. Deeply disappointed in the restored Bourbon monarchy and the reactionary climate, Goya died in a self-chosen exile in Bordeaux. To Spain, he left his lasting artistic legacy.
This article was provided by the InterNations Editorial Office. InterNations is the no.1 worldwide community for expats and global minds, offering its members the opportunity to network, socialize and find expat-relevant information online and offline. It also features a local community for expatriates in Spain, especially in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Marbella.