Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) was one of history's most masterful printmakers and social satirists. Pomona College Museum of Art is proud to own first editions sets of all four of his etching series, a total of 211 prints. Los Caprichos, 1799; Los Desastres de la Guerra, 1810-20; and Los Disparates, 1815-24 (also known as Los Proverbios) were given to Pomona College in 1974 by Norton Simon. In 1998 the Museum purchased La Tauromaquia, 1815-16, with funds provided by the estate of Walter and Elise Mosher.
First published in 1799, Los Caprichos exposed the vice and corruption that led Spain to be branded as "Black Spain" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the 80 etchings that comprise the series, Goya depicted the peasantry's superstitious belief in witchcraft, the arrogance of the nobility, and the widespread corruption of the Catholic Church. To avoid alienating powerful individuals at Court and to protect himself from the wrath of the Inquisition, however, the artist masked his satire by means of images that would inspire multiple interpretations. For example, in plate 68, two nude witches, one old and withered, the other young and voluptuous, ride a broomstick. The image clearly refers to the belief in witchcraft, but, on a less obvious level, it also addresses the issue of prostitution within Spanish society. This subtle layering of meanings, seen with particular brilliance in Los Caprichos is one of the hallmarks of Goya's artistry.
Only a few copies of the first edition of Los Caprichos were sold. Despite Goya's attempts to veil the critical nature of the series, he felt it necessary to withdraw the prints from circulation and make a gift of the plates to the Spanish monarch. Ultimately, however, Los Caprichos became Goya's most popular series; Domenico Tiepolo owned a set, as did Eugène Delacroix, who borrowed freely from Goya's images. Twelve editions of Los Caprichos were produced between 1799 and 1937, and it was primarily through this print series that Goya became known outside of Spain.
Los Desastres de la Guerra
In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of France; in 1808 he invaded Spain. Sending the royal family into exile, he installed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. This action incensed the native populace and precipitated the Spanish War of Independence. Between 1808 and 1813, Spaniards fought a guerrilla war against the greatest army in Europe to free themselves of French domination.
From the beginning of the War until about 1820, Goya worked on the 80 prints he would call Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War). Rather than depicting heroic soldiers and scenes of glorious battle, Goya produced stark, sobering images of brutality, slaughter and misery. His images exposed the horror of war, from the ferocity of village fighting (plates 2-27) to the terrible famine that ravaged Madrid in 1811-12, claiming 20,000 lives (plates 48-64). In the "caprichos emphaticos" (plates 65-80) the artist comments on the war's political, religious, and ideological aspects and ramifications. With a stark intensity unprecedented in the history of art, these prints convey the barbarity and futility of war. No one is spared from man's inhumanity toward man, and no death is glorious.
Los Disparates / Los Proverbios
Francisco Goya created his final and most enigmatic print series in the years between 1815 and 1824. For reasons that remain unclear, 40 years passed before their publication in 1864. The series was published under the title Los Proverbios, although Goya's own captions for the working proofs include the word "disparates," meaning "follies." As a result, this print series is known by both titles. The proverbs assigned to each plate were added upon publication.
Even with titles, the meanings of Los Proverbios remain ambiguous. Like Goya's "black" paintings, begun in 1819 after his recovery from a serious illness and filled with macabre visions, Los Proverbios are imbued with an overwhelming sense of pesr to reflect Goya's precarious mental state at the time. Each of the 18 etchings depicts isolated figures in dark, often nightmarish landscapes. While some plates appear harmlessly satirical, others depict gruesome monsters or attacks on innocents. Although the subject matter in this series is varied, the level of quality is constant. Goya's expert use of contour, line density, and tonal variation in weaving his dark visions clearly evidence his extraordinary abilities as a master printmaker.