Goya and the drawing (a reflection after the Prado Museum exhibition)

Approaching Goya and drawing offers an excellent opportunity to talk about the functionality of the environment, the wealth of procedures, and the creative and reflective capacity of the painter in the context of his general activity and taking into account that, in addition to painting With different techniques, he also did engraving and lithography.

The multiple functionality of the drawing has had a real impact on their appreciation, research and conservation. Drawing was common in workshops as study and work material. Educating the hand in the drawing was the basis of the artist’s training since the end of the Middle Ages and part of the method was to copy other drawings, which with the use would end up disappearing, and prints. Goya received this training and accepted it because he practiced it both at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando and on an individual basis: his own prints and drawings put them as a model for the disciples to copy.

Correspondence with your childhood friend
Martín Zapater offers two other important aspects of Goya’s relationship with drawing: visual communication and a way to channel his hyperactivity. Through the drawing the artist expresses so much suffering, it is enough to see the self-portrait that is made to show the inflammation that a phlegmon produces (fig. 1), as the desires, it is really endearing to see how he tempts his friend to spend a day of snack hunting (fig. 2); and at the same time reveals complicities such as writing in a formulary way and end up sticking a somewhat rough drawing (fig. 3).

In relation to hyperactivity, it was part of his daily life since he was young. In a letter addressed to «Mariquita», the owner of the tavern of the old street of Colchoneros, of which the «Herald of Aragon» reported on December 31, 1921, it is described as «the painter of Fuendetodos the tables and walls were blurred. As an adult he liked to make cartoons in the gatherings he attended (fig. 4) and, for the enjoyment of those who made him morning visits, he used the finger and the sandbox of the scribe to draw, with all kinds of variations that move Godoy’s portrait, ephemeral drawings that show the caution that Goya had in dealing with certain issues and people and explain the difficulties we sometimes have to understand him.

Drawing was how the delineation was learned from the parts of the face to the complete figure, a process in which the skill to make the contours and the shading was acquired, the latter key element to create depth, articulate the tonal range and know how to treat the different textures Logically, the future artist – and in this case the use of the masculine one is because it was really the young people and not the young women who could access this type of training in Goya’s time -, he became familiar with the drawing utensils and the supports . Goya’s drawings offer the possibility to appreciate the three textures that come into play in any drawing and that transcend the personal style of the artist: the support, the medium and the derivative of the illusion of the represented object.

The small-scale drawing is a table, desktop work so it is not made to be seen vertically but rather sitting and close, with time to appreciate details and nuances. The most common support for drawing is paper, but it should not be forgotten that the expressive language of the drawing was the one that served to fit the pictorial compositions and was a major part in the engraving. The paper most used in Europe since the late Middle Ages was the verjury, it was done manually and presents translucent lines that correspond to the form wires. Goya knew how to appreciate the quality of the materials with which the drawing was worked, among other testimonies, the weighting of the paper he has bought in a letter to Zapater can be mentioned.

As for the technique, each one has its own personality, its imprint, and the artist capable of internalizing the possibilities and limitations of the techniques will be the first to try to challenge them, experimenting with them; a constant challenge to the orthodoxy that Goya takes hold as he lives. If we focus on the known techniques he used, he used both the dry ones – red pencil (fig. 5), black (fig. 6) and graphite – and wet ones – pen and brush with common ink (fig. 7) and Chinese ink (fig. 8) -; and discovered the rich effects and possibilities of the lithographic pencil to draw in the last years of his life in the so-called Album G and H, made in Bordeaux (1824-1828).

The fatty and soft character of this pencil made it easy for him to make lines and stains equally, allowing him to achieve very different effects to the pen and the brush with which he drew a priority previously. The most eloquent example that can be put that expresses both the spirit of Goya in the twilight of life and at the same time shows the imprint of the technique and the procedure used “I still learn”, a subtly ironic “self-portrait” that awakens tenderness and empathy in any old spectator (fig. 9).

Drawing can be a methodical, controlled and organized action or deeply liberating and reflective. And of all this there are examples in the painter’s work. In relation to the methodical and organized action, you can check in the way in which you copy with black pencil (fig. 9) or red the velazqueñas paintings (fig. 10), and on the opposite pole are the drawings related to the series of the “Disparates”, in the final period of his life, where the brush seems to have come to life in a reflexive and concentrated immediacy that visualizes what he thinks in a way that is sometimes difficult to interpret or understand (fig. 11) .

And this is a transcendent aspect of the drawing that must be taken into account, sometimes it is part of a process, an intermediate element between the artist’s idea and the final support, preparatory drawings that can be absolutely schematic or close to the final work. In the so-called “Italian notebook” you can find an example of both: a scheme of distribution of Aula Dei’s paintings in Zaragoza (fig. 12), or the figure of Santa Bárbara santa (figs. 13-14).

This type of drawing also corresponds to the few that are preserved in relation to tapestry tapestries that testify that Goya, like the rest of the artists of his time, made preparatory studies and used the techniques to use them: color that allows you to draw taking advantage of the contrast that articulates between the pencils and the white chalk to give highlights.

But the drawing can also be a work with an end in itself, a personal record that becomes a private universe of the artist and his thinking, and that deserve a different assessment or treatment. As in the rest of his work, the disease marked a before and after in Goya’s relationship and drawing, and the value that the painter himself gave to this part of his work. The drawings that we know before 1794 can be described as functional, but those he makes later, including those related to his recorded work, take on another meaning, in fact Goya retained most of them in his possession until the end of his life, treasured and only shared them with the closest ones.

The disease was a crisis that changed Goya’s way of relating to his environment and his own attitude towards life. This should not surprise. If we leave aside that romantic concept of genius that has done so much damage to understand the artist in his daily life, and we confront his way of dealing with the disease according to our own experiences, we can better understand his ability to overcome adversity, an attitude that It does not speak of genius but of fortitude, strength and willpower. How many people around us have not had the same spirit and it shows a before and after a health crisis? It is the return to life and everyday life, to recover the idea that there is still a future.

When Goya begins to feel a little better, he faces his new reality and confronts it: he is deteriorated, but working on the self-portrait that is preserved in the Prado Museum (fig. 15). Goya shows us sitting. We already commented that drawing is a desk job, then it is not uncommon for that young man who smeared walls to start this new journey with drawing and that this was no longer just a medium that is part of a creative process, but works with its own purpose . This attitude will last a lifetime.

We know that Goya had started this activity as early as 1794, because in one of the pages of the first album he points out “Masks of Holy Week of the year 94” (fig. 8), and in Bordeaux he continued to do so with fruition (fig. 9). And in the future of life Goya was creating his own graphic grammar: the line and the stain are sometimes combined with delicacy and content pulse, others in a dramatic and violent way; sometimes he uses a pen and a brush, sometimes only the brush or pencil; sometimes he takes care of every last detail and even frames the scene, as is the case with the pages of Album E (fig. 16), in others it is seen that he is in a hurry to finish and does not stop in details … And practically the same can be said of his preparatory drawings to record (fig. 11)

As for the content, Goya was expressing what interested him, what worried him, what he rejected, what he felt. That is the reason why the drawings of the albums have been considered as a kind of intimate diary of the artist and at the same time memory of the society in which he lived. As the deafness was isolating him the vision was always sharpened together with the feeling: in some it is burlesque or ironic, in others it is justical; sometimes he is moved, feels pity, shows empathy, in others he laughs and is contemptuous; in some he expresses his fears in others his certainties … And as the youth is chronologically advanced as the main theme, decrepitude and old age happen, to graceful and vivacious figures, deformity and clumsiness, entertainments and amusements , punishment and cruelty, misery and greatness, hopes and frustrations.

How many times we say that reality exceeds cinema and at the same time that a certain director has been able to offer an interpretation of reality that helps to know, understand and explain it. For that same reflection is what can be done and established between the work drawn by Goya from 1794 and the society in which he lived.

Located in this context, then it is necessary to know how it was and what happened in Spain at that time because if there is a man who is of his time, who belongs to his time, that is Goya. This is the reason why one must be prudent and rigorous in the interpretations that are made: affirming that it was anti-bullfighting or that the relationship he had with Martín Zapater was homosexual, is not wanting to recognize how much he enjoyed bullfighting or not knowing what friendship was and how the affections were expressed at that time.

To interpret the violence and aggressions of women victims of war as a commitment to feminism is to make war violence invisible and to empty the feminist movement of content.

It is true that Goya also speaks to us, but it is that the timeless dimension of art in any of its expressions – visual, textual, sound – is part of its greatness. But in that dialogue it is not necessary to annul the artist, impose our readings or interpretations, or manipulate the works. Isn’t it striking that the Prado Museum celebrates the arrival of the new year with a composition in which Goya wrote “Lux et tenebris”? In this page of Album C a young woman brings light to a crowd that is shaking in darkness, it is a composition drawn in times of anxiety and hardship, of fear and death, as was the period of the war against Napoleon and the reprisals of absolutism fernandino.

That constant attitude of the Prado Museum for appropriating the painter, his work and thought, of not studying and taking into account those who have done so with rigor and seriousness has also led to disrupting the denomination agreed for the drawings without having mediated justification or reflection to do so. What has been agreed to be called Italian notebook, certainly does not only refer to the trip to Italy, much less, but it does respond to what was the booklet or notebook in Goya’s time: «a composite of many sheets of paper, bound or put together »; booklets where all kinds of things were pointed out.

Probably the few drawings we have of the so-called Sanlúcar Album come from a similar type of notebook, but with golden edges, that is to say more luxurious that might not have been owned by the artist. Very different are the drawings that until now have been organized in albums: it is not known if in Goya’s life everyone was bound or in folders, so it is not possible to call them notebooks, but the spirit with which they are made is very different of the others. For this reason, in the face of the confusion that the museum has created in the presentation of the drawings and their way of naming them, and until the question is seriously studied, it seems more practical to continue calling them albums. As for the letter to differentiate them, the proposal of Eleanor A. Sayre in 1964 has not been for the time being questioned, so let it be. .

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.