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"Goya and the Court of Enlightenment" enthralling at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

From 14 February till 28 May 2018 the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum displays the exhibition "Goya and the Court of Enlightenment" comprising 96 works. The display brings together 61 oil paintings and 35 other exhibits including documents and examples of the decorative arts. Co-organised by the Museo Nacional del Prado, Fundación Bancaria "la Caixa" and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, the exhibition shows Goya as an outstanding figure within the context of 18th-century. As a successful court painter, Goya executed portraits of the wealthy and powerful Spanish Court in a lavish virtuoso style, yet as an astute observer of the world around him, he filled his works with veiled, even sly, criticisms of the ineffectual rulers and their circle. The artist produced art that responds directly to the tumultuous events of his day, marking the beginning of 19th-century realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
Born in Fuendetodos (1746), a small village in northern Spain, to a lower-middle-class family, Francisco Goya has became a famous painter and worked for the renowned Spanish nobles and royals. Starting his career as court painter in 1786, under Charles III, he later established himself as a favorite of Charles IV, becoming First Court Painter to the king in 1799, the highest position for an artist in the royal household.

And although his best work was done apart from his official duties, viewers of the exhibition "Goya and the Court of Enlightenment" have a great opportunity to study that part of the artist oeuvre which was done in the decorative rococo tradition and influenced by neoclassicism, establishing Goya’s artistic reputation.
View of the exhibition "Goya and the Court of Enlightenment" at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. Photo:
In 1773, Goya married Josefa Bayeu, a sister of Francisco Bayeu who was at the time a court painter to Charles III. Actually, first Goya began his art practice under Francisco Bayeu, then became close friends with him, and later married his sister. So, a newly-made brother-in-law Bayeu invited Goya to come to Madrid and start the career at court to which the artist had aspired since his youth.

Francisco Goya was 28 years old when he moved to the capital having 13 years of experience in the art field. As a teenager, he had trainings in art with José Luzán in Zaragoza (1760−64), followed by studies with Anton Raphael Mengs, a German artist who worked as court painter for the Spanish royal family. By the way, Goya did not get along well with the latter, and his exams were unsatisfactory. That’s why his submissions to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando were rejected in both 1763 and 1766.
  • Anton Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Charles III, 1765. Museo del Prado
  • Francisco Goya, Portrait of Charles III, 1788. Museo del Prado
Goya’s transformation of Charles III image executed by his teacher Anton Raphael Mengs is strikingly powerful. Due to the new and penetrating naturalism in rendering the King’s traits, his closeness to the viewer, and the location of the monarch in a bare landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
which has little to do with a traditional setting in a pompous palace draperies, Goya turns Charles III from a knight in shining armor to the man of Enlightenment.

In Goya’s canvas, the sweeping, steep and dry landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
, seen from above, traversed by a small stream with a cascade and completed in the background by high mountains, opens the way to a new interpretation of the enlightened monarch who continued to provide modernization in Madrid and throughout Spain, developed its industry and trade and restructured the social classes, in which for the first time an emerging bourgeoisie appeared and enjoyed greater access to work. Charles III surrounded himself with the ministers advancing progressive ideas — Esquilache, Campomanes and Floridablanca — rather than with military force.
Having failed to enter Spanish Academy for two times, Goya didn’t give up and left for Rome on a trip during 1769−71. Paying for it from his own pocket, he was aimed at studying art, although details about his activities in Italy are murky. Some researchers say he studied at the Drawing Academy, the others have their doubts about this. Anyway, having returned from Italy at the age of 23, Goya obtained various important commissions including religious mural paintings in Spanish basilicas and churches. He has also got orders for religious paintings from various clients.

When he moved to Madrid in 1774, he received commissions for cartons for the Royal Tapestry factory at Santa Barbara. From 1775 to 1792, Goya created scenes from contemporary Spanish life in a lighthearted and light-toned Rococo manner. They depicted numerous models and situations taken from real life. Packed with merriment and enlivened with amusements, games, children and festivities, the scenes were also filled with violence, deception and sadness as well as desire and seduction that served as the backdrop for life.
Within tapestry project, Goya was commissioned to produce 9 cartons depicting hunting scenes to decorate the palace at El Escorial. Goya himself enjoyed hunting, he considered it "the greatest sport in the world". Together with his best friend and life-long correspondent Martín Zapater, Goya enthusiastically took part in hunting. This activity, being reserved for the royal family, the nobility and the clergy only for a long time, has just became available to the middle class at the time.

Cartons for tapestries helped Goya become a keen observer of human and animal behavior. He managed to create an extensive range of sentiments, different types of male and female attire, animal kinds and endless variety of situations. The resulting tapestries were installed in two royal palaces. Goya leveraged this experience to grow his connections within the Spanish court.
Francisco Goya. Hunting Party
Hunting Party
1775, 290×226 cm
Despite his great success at the Court of Enlightenment, Goya maintained connections with his relatives and friends since youth throughout his life, never forgotten his roots.

Artists, architects, sculptors and aristocratic patrons as well as merchant friends and key figures in the economic ventures of the day such as Martín Zapater (bellow left), Juan Martín de Goicoechea (bellow right), Ramón Pignatelli and many others kept alive the artist’s contacts with Zaragoza, which remained in Goya’s memory even in his final years in Bordeaux.

The exhibition shows the examples of uncompromising portrayal that marked the beginning of 19th-century realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
In addition to oil paintings and cartons showing picturesque scenes of daily life, festivities and hunting, portraits of nobles and royalty, Zaragoza friends, there are two more sections of the display: female refinement in the 18th century and portraits of Basques and Navarrans.

The concept of "refinement" emerged in Spain in the second half of the 18th century and was related to the idea of civilisation. It implied a demand for intellectual elevation through manners, habits and tastes, and manifested itself in new social customs and in clothing. New activities became widespread, such as informal debating groups and soirées, celebrations, dances, theatre and promenades — they gave women an opportunity to find their places in public spaces. These changes affected all levels of society. Dress got more democratic, prices for textiles dropped, and human attires started resembling each other. So, the idea of "national dress" came up to resolve the issue.

The portraits and scenes of everyday life by Goya in this section feature nobles, majos and dandies. They reveal the evolution of the Spanish fashion from sophisticated and decorative profusion of the Rococo to the simplicity of Neo-classicism with its revolutionary airs.
Portraits of Basques and Navarrans is another highlight of the exhibition in Bilbao.

Goya created plenty of art works featuring customs and lifestyle of people from the land Basque Country. And it wasn’t a casual interest. His father, José Benito de Goya y Franque was the son of a notary of Basque origin, with ancestors being from Zerain. The probable reason why Goya’s parents left for Zaragoza is that José was commissioned to work in the city as a gilder in religious and decorative craftwork. He oversaw the gilding and most of the ornamentation during the rebuilding of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Santa Maria del Pilar) in Zaragoza.

Gorged Oteiza, a Basque Spanish sculptor, painter, designer and writer, renowned for being one of the main theorists on Basque modern art, wrote of Goya as having "two souls": "In the end, Goya, the highest and most complete expression of the Spanish genius, is the most vivid and free manifestation of our secret Basque personality."

The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum has published a book to accompany the exhibition in which art historian Aingeru Zabala analyses the relationship between various Basques and the court in a wide-ranging context that encompasses the customs and lifestyle during the 18th and early 19th century.

  • Francisco Goya, Witches' Sabbath, 1797-98. Museo Lázaro Galliano, Madrid. This paintings have been seen as a protest against those who upheld and enforced the values of the Spanish Inquisition, which had been active in Witch hunting during the 17th-century Basque witch trials
  • Francisco Goya, Portrait of Fernando III of Navarra or Ferdinand VII of Spain, ca. 1810. Palacio de Navarra, Pamplona, Navarra
In addition to the core group of canvases and cartoons by Goya, the exhibition "Goya and the Court of Enlightenment" also features works by other important 18th-century artists such as Luis Paret, Mariano Paella, José del Castillo, Luis Meléndez, Antonio Carnicero and Lorenzo Tiepolo to provide context and reveal the remarkable originality of Goya’s work. Finally, the exhibition includes examples of the above-mentioned correspondence with Martín Zapater, as well as miniatures, prints and examples of the decorative arts.

"Goya and the Court of Enlightenment" is on display from 14 February till 28 May 2018 the Bibao Fine Arts Museum.
Written on materials of The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum,, Museo del Prado. Title illustration: Francisco Goya, Blind Man’s Bluff, oil on linen, a carton for tapestry, 1789. National Museum of the Prado, Madrid.