Francisco de Goya Biographya Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Goya was born in 1746 into a middle-class family of six children. He started his artistic training at the age of 14. His initial training took place in Zaragoza with the local painter José Luzán Martínez.

During his apprenticeship he learnt his trade by copying the works of the masters. He later moved to Madrid where he continued his education working in the studio of the brothers Francisco and Ramón Bayeu. He married their sister Josefa in 1773. Although they had many children, there was only one son, Xavier who survived to adulthood.

He was born Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes on 30 March 1746 in the village of Fuendetodos, Spain. The son of a gilder, Goya grew up to be one of the country’s most influential painters of both the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was not until he was in his thirties that he was producing work that set him apart from others. He was a romantic painter and printmaker. Some saw him as being the last of the Old Masters and ‘the father of modern art’.

In 1770 Rome was seen as the cultural capital of Europe. To further his art training, he travelled to Italy at his own expense. While in Rome Goya studied the classical works there. It was during his visit to Rome that he completed two mythological paintings - a ‘Sacrifice to Vesta’ and a ‘Sacrifice to Pan’.

Goya returned to Zaragoza in 1771 where he opened his own studio. At the same time, he received his first important commission. This was a ceiling decoration for the small choir in the Cathedral of El Pilar in Zaragoza. Three years later Goya produced a series of eleven religious paintings on the walls of the Carthusian monastery of Aula Dei near Zaragoza.

It was in 1775 that Goya’s career at court in Madrid took off. It was to last the rest of his life and covered four ruling monarchs. Under the direction of the German artist Anton Raphael Mengs, he was commissioned to produce tapestry cartoons. The cartoons were artworks in their own right which served as templates for woven tapestries produced in Madrid. These artworks showed scenes from everyday life. Two examples of such works were The Parasol (1777) and ‘The Pottery Vendor’ (1779). Goya saw his standing in the royal court strengthened when in 1779 he won an appointment as a painter to the royal court. 1780 saw him elected to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1780. He was director of painting at the Royal Academy from 1795 to 1797.

During the 1780s he was able to establish himself as a portrait artist by winning commissions from many of those in royal circles. Portraits such as The Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter showed Goya's skill in being able to capture the sensitivity of his sitters as well as their fine clothing and other trappings of wealth. Even with the invasion by Napoleon’s armies and the ensuing Spanish war of independence, Goya remained a painter at the royal court but to the French. With the removal of the French and the restoration of the monarchy, Goya received a pardon. He continued to paint for patrons at the royal court. He also painted a number of portraits of Ferdinand VII and his family. These were not for the King himself, but for a variety of organisations.

By 1808, Goya was at the height of his career. However, it was also the time when the Spanish ruler Charles IV and his son Ferdinand were forced to abdicate as the armies of Napoleon entered Spain. With Napoleon’s brother Joseph on the throne, Goya was able to retain his position as a painter in the royal court. During the course of the war, he painted portraits of both Spanish and French generals. Equally, he also painted a portrait of the Duke of Wellington in 1812. As a commentator of the time, Goya produced a set of etchings known as the Disasters of War that recorded his reactions to the war and its horrors and consequences. His drawings were not one of documentary realism but were instead dramatic compositions that reflected the brutal details and authenticity of the time.

With the Spanish royalty restored to the throne, Goya was reinstated as first court painter. At this time Goya depicted the human costs of the war in a number of works of art. Two of his best known works depicting the costs of the war include: The 2nd of May 1808 - The Charge of the Mamelukes. The 3rd of May 1808 - The execution of the defenders of Madrid.

Like The Disasters they were works of art which showed a dramatic realism and a style that influenced later 19th-century French artists.

Towards the end of the 1810s, Goya was living in seclusion in a farmhouse known as La Quinta del Sordo outside of Madrid. In seclusion, he was free from the restrictions that life in the royal court had placed upon him. It was during his time living at the Quinta del Sordo that Goya created a series of paintings that were known as the Black Paintings. He painted these in oil onto the plaster walls of his country house. One of his most well-known Black Paintings was Saturn Devouring his Son. At the same time, he also produced a series of etchings known as Los proverbios or Los disparates. Both sets of works were illustrative of Goya’s darkest visions.

It was while at the farmhouse, which was his studio that he painted portraits of friends and relations including his ‘Self-Portraits’ (1815). In seclusion, he also created a number of religious compositions such as the ‘Agony in the Garden and The Last Communion of St. Joseph of Calasanz’ (1819). Unlike his earlier church paintings, these were seen as being as representative of sincere devotion.

It was towards the end of 1792 that Goya suffered an illness that left him deaf. As a result, Goya became withdrawn and more inward-looking. The direction and tone of his work also changed as a result. It saw him being given free expression to his observations of what was going on around him and his newly found power of imagination.

With the restoration of the Spanish monarchy and Ferdinand VII now in power, Goya was able to keep his position at court. In several of his portraits of the Spanish monarch, Goya was able to show the cruel personality of Ferdinand VII. The oppressive rule under which Goya and his friends were living drove many of them into exile. With the tense political climate, Goya decided in 1824 that he might be safer outside of Spain. Despite ill health, he sought permission to go into self-imposed exile in France. He settled in Bordeaux where he lived until his death. Although old and infirm, Goya continued to record his thoughts on the world around him through his paintings and drawings. He also made use of the new technique of lithography. His last works encompassed both genre subjects as well as portraits of some of his friends who were also living in exile. Goya died on 16 April 1828 in Bordeaux, France.

During his long career, Goya produced a large number of works. Of these, there are said to be about 700 surviving paintings with 300 prints and nearly 1,000 drawings. His works captured styles like Rococo and Romanticism. His paintings were both political and personal in subject expressing a wide range of emotions. His works range from famous war-inspired pieces like The Third of May 1808 to his hauntingly intense black paintings such as The Drowning Dog. Some of his best-known works include:

  • The Third of May 1808
  • Saturn Devouring His Son
  • The Naked Maja
  • Los Caprichos
  • The Disasters of War
  • The Duchess of Alba
  • The Drowning Dog
  • The Family of Carlos IV
  • The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
  • Self-Portrait with Dr Arrieta
  • The Forge

Goya was an artist whose many paintings, drawings and engravings were a sign of the political and social upheaval that was occurring. As a commentator of what was going on around him, some saw him as being a revolutionary artist. It was while at the court of Ferdinand VII that Goya produced a series of engravings called Los disparates. These showed his discontent with the King’s rule. His works influenced many other painters that followed after him. In the 20th and 21st centuries, Goya’s works were admired and studied by the Expressionists and Surrealists.

Originally buried in Bordeaux, Goya's remains were exhumed at the turn of 20th century. The exhumed remains were moved to Madrid and the Pantheon of Illustrious Men of the Sacramental Cemetery of San Isidro. Goya’s remains were transferred to the church of San Antonio de la Florida in 1929.