Goya’s life’s work at the Fondation Beyeler

In the winter of 1792/93 Goya strikes a strange illness, probably a stroke, and he cannot get out of bed for weeks. When the artist recovered, he lost his hearing, for him the world sinks into soundlessness. He roars, he purrs, he crows back as he understood it: with pictures. You are his answer to what he perceives. The sense of sight is more important than ever for him.

The exhibition of the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen near Basel shows the whole Goya, the work before and after the health problem in the middle of life of the Spaniard, who died at the age of 82 in Bordeaux. However, it cannot be divided into two halves: first the cheerful painter who portrays the beautiful and the rich, then the misanthropist who documents the atrocities of the world with the accuracy of a police reporter.

Goya was always both, and both sides appear in his pictures, sometimes at the same time. Did he allow himself to be corrupted as a court painter? Even as an employed artist, he lived the freedom, he showed the lousy in people, also the beautiful.

Carpet for Carlos IV’s study.

Programmatically, “The Straw Puppet” from 1791/92 hangs from the Prado in the first room of the brilliant exhibition, which features 71 paintings – plus fifty drawings and fifty graphics – another 20 paintings more than the last major retrospective in Berlin in 2005.

The carpet design for Carlos IV’s study in the Escorial shows four court ladies who, for their amusement, catapult a doll with knee breeches, velvet jacket and pigtail on a cloth into the air. The figure looks lifelike, if it weren’t for the exaggeratedly made-up face as well as the gruesome arms torn to the side and the bent head.

All the evil is already in the portrayal of this cheerful Carnival Sunday ritual. Two decades later Goya takes up the motif again for the graphic cycle “Disparates” (nonsense). Here, under the title “Female Folly”, six women throw up a human ball with a cloth.

The fun has become serious. With his “Desastros de la guerra” (The Horrors of War, 1811-14), Goya previously recorded mercilessly what men and women, the Napoleonic troops, could do to the Spanish insurgents – and vice versa.

The famous “Maya” is advertised

The retrospective, simply called “Goya”, is a rollercoaster ride – shine is followed by violence, sensitive portraits of friends the grimaces of cannibalism, cadavers piled up on fine women. The show is advertised with the famous “Maja”, albeit the one dressed. Her counterpart, the naked beauty stretched out on the same sofa, stayed behind in the Prado. Only one is ever borrowed.

Samuel Keller, the director of the Fondation Beyeler, decided in Calvinist Switzerland for the modest, tulle-clad model, which, however, is no less attractive with its arms folded behind the head. Nevertheless, their sex appeal is often used for posters and catalog titles.

Goya was the great water heater for the modern age. He took over Venus from Titian; Manet, in turn, was inspired by him for his “Olympia”. Goyas Majas possessed an impertinence and profundity that had lost none of their virulence more than half a century later. The highlights of the exhibition include two other Maja motifs. Maja, that’s the name for girls from the people.

Goya was a pioneer of modernity

This time they have taken a seat on a balcony and are well dressed. One of them leans curiously over the railing, behind her the matchmaker Celestina grins to herself. In the other picture, two young women are sitting and whispering about what they see on the sidewalk, while suitors presumably pass away as dark shadows behind them. Manet also picked up on the motif, but with him it is society women who have neatly closed necklines.

Picasso, in turn, took over the ferocity and vehemence of Goya’s “Tauromaquia”. Goya’s third graphic cycle was unsuccessful during his lifetime, as it reproduced the events in the arena too drastically. At that time nobody wanted to see the slaughter of the impaled horses, the death of the torero.

All three cycles – “The Horrors of War”, “Disparates” and “Tauromaquia” – are works by the late Goya, who withdrew to Bordeaux in disaffection when the restoration began with Fernando VII. He portrayed him again in 1814/15. In the picture, the regent holds the marshal’s baton strangely tense, as if to demonstrate determination, while his left hand pushes back the ermine cloak to show the gleaming gold handle of his sword.

He was to go down in the history of Spain as one of the cruellest rulers, under him the inquisition and torture returned.

Exciting change of formats

Goya is not just a constant change in temperaments, motifs and techniques, but above all the formats. The large representative image of society, for example, of the Duchess of Alba, whose little dog wears the same red bow around her right hind leg as she does on the neckline, stands next to the intimate fantasy.

You have to get very close to the small-format picture “Hexenflug” from 1797/98, which is part of a six-part series on the subject of witchcraft and superstition commissioned by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna. Only then can it be seen that the three bare-chested witches and pointed hats suckle the exposed victim on the chest, legs and stomach that they have lifted into the air.

Below them, on the ground floor, a farmer has panicked a scarf over his head so as not to see the monstrosity, another covers his ears. The Evil Spook is another flight scene in Goya’s work. The artist had nothing to do with the superstitions of his contemporaries, but it inspired him.

Source From: Tagesspiegel

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