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X Marks the Spot
One of the most fascinating artists to study is Francisco de Goya Y Luciente, best known, perhaps because of the tongue-twisting acrobatics of his name, simply as Goya. Born in Spain in 1746, his early work has a definite Rococo quality that, except for the Spanish "earthiness" of his figures, and the more informal qualities of their attire, would make it difficult to distinguish him from his French counterparts. As a young man he gravitated to Madrid, then to Italy where the best art educations were to be found.

Upon returning to Spain, the Italian influences dominated his maturing art as he easily moved from pastoral landscapes to portraits to genre almost at the flick of his wrist. By 1786 his popularity lifted him to a royal appointment as court painter where some of his most interesting works were accomplished. One such work is a massive nine by eleven foot royal group portrait of Charles IV and thirteen members of his family that is a masterpiece of psychological insights, depicting a rather homely, if not downright unattractive clan of pompous, overdressed royal stiffnecks encompassing three generations. One figure even has her face turned away from the artist.

When Napoleon hit Spain Goya's role as an artist resembled that of a news photographer. Few artist before or since have succeeded in capturing the horrors of war with such brutal drama. Two paintings stand out, The Second of May, 1808 and The Third of May 1808. The first is a ferocious mob attacking Napoleon's Mameluke horsemen and dragoons while the second depicts a mass execution by French troops in reprisal for the attack. The upraised, white-clad arms of the dark-skinned central figure in the latter work are one of the most forceful painting compositions ever created. Its powerful X-marks-the-spot shape marks the spot where, in 1814, Goya found redemption from the frothy, lightweight qualities of his youthful work.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
28 January 1998

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