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Francesco Goya (1746-1828) was one of the old masters of canvas art, during the 18th and 19th Centuries. During the time of Napoleon in France, he was the court painter of the Spanish Empire. He is regarded as the last great painter of the ‘Canvas’ age, a painter on the pedestal along with Da Vinci.
Throughout this time, he drew a famous series of illustrations covering the Peninsular War of 1804, ‘The Desastres De La Guerra’, considered one of the earliest (and best) examples of ‘War Journalism’.
He also painted a multitude of other beautiful works, depicting an ethereal image of a nude woman in his painting, The Nude Maja.
It had a hilarious side note - when the religious clergy in catholic Spain raised Cain on the matter, Goya, in probably the most beautiful snubs of all time, created a recreation of it - The Clothed Maja.
Goya painted all his life - but like everyone else, eventually, his old age set in. He more or less left society, and resided in his riverside villa. This was the time when he showed the very first signs of the onset of what was an unknown malady then, but is today known as ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’. Francisco Goya passed away on 16th April 1828.
It was after his death, when his son arrived at his father’s death - home to execute his last will and testament, and he went through the rooms that Goya had been occupying more or less solitary, that he uncovered something that truly shocked his patrons - something they could not believe Goya would paint. Something so dark and malevolent - it was as if a red rose had suddenly turned black and spread death, in place of its fragrance.
Behold, the ‘Yard with Lunatics’:
‘Witches’ Sabbath and the Great He-Goat’:
And what is today known as Goya’s greatest masterpiece or as I personally like to call it, the Mona Lisa of Spain, ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’:
What had happened in those ensuing years of loneliness? Maybe something to do with the fact that Goya was suddenly drawing so prolifically and furiously that almost every square-inch of wall in his home was found drawn over with not one, not two, but 14 paintings with more or less the same theme as above.
These works are collectively known as the ‘Black Paintings’. This far overshot his usual frequency of painting. This, as you may see, also far overshot his style of painting. These paintings were enough to instill great fear into the minds of who ever saw them in the pre- television age. What happened to him? Why was everything suddenly so…. black?
A casual reader might connect this surge with Alzheimer’s. And he might not be entirely wrong. What is of special note here is the fact that what we know about this condition today is materially not much than what they knew in that time. We may as well as have just given a name to it. In my opinion, the Black Paintings represent a very rare opportunity to look at what goes on inside a stricken mind. There are very few such works available, including Louis Wain’s psychedelic cats.
The human mind is more unexplored than outer space - there is so little we know about it! What made the rose turn black? And stranger still, the fact that what that black rose drew, today commands huge crowds, and a priceless value. What was it? Was it material or immaterial? Shapeless? Unexplained? We can only think. And fear.