Goya: The Portraits

Goya: Self Portrait

(National Gallery, London, until 10 January 2016)

As someone who focuses on drawings and prints, I’m most familiar with Goya as a dark satirist, haunted by nightmarish images of witches and tumbling figures, like those in the recent show at the Courtauld. It’s easy to forget that his contemporaries knew him best for another very different aspect of his art, which forms the focus of this brand new exhibition at the National Gallery: his portraits.

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Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album

Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album

(Courtauld Gallery, London, until 25 May 2015)

A man slumps at a table, his head buried in his arms. As he dreams, the dark creatures of his imagination rise out of the shadows behind him: a lynx, which looks up with wide eyes; bats, flocking in the darkness, and owls which mob the sleeping figure with their wings and steal his artist’s tools. This etching, made in 1799, forms part of Goya’s print series Los Caprichos and was originally conceived as an allegorical self-portrait. Its title is The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. For all of mankind’s pretensions to reason and rationality in this Enlightened age, Goya seems to say, we only have to sleep for our primal nightmares to come crawling out of the woodwork.

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