Heads in a Landscape Francisco de Goya 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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Few classical artists offered such insight into the deepest recesses of their soul as Francisco de Goya, especially toward the end of his life and career. This was when he created the famous - some might say infamous - series known as the Black Paintings.

While not officially a part of this series of haunting images, Heads in a Landscape is often rumoured to be an unofficial entry due in part to the creeping unease one gets when observing it and the fact that it was created around the same time in the early 1820s. This painting itself showcases a murky dark and cloudy landscape in the background, featuring shadowy trees and a stark cliff, but arguably the more haunting aspect of the piece are the five heads protruding from the bottom right corner. Each face shows varying degrees of amusement and mischief, prompting the audience to wonder what kind of lives they're leading and/or what unspoken deeds they may be partaking in.

These may be Heads in a Landscape but the untold story seen only through their facial expressions hints at so much more that may have gone on or be about to happen, perhaps in the dark aforementioned environment where prying eyes are not present. Modern observers could also be somewhat taken aback by this painting not necessarily for its minimalist content but the unique perspective Goya used to highlight it. That is to say; it looks hauntingly similar to what would today be referred to as a group 'selfie', with five friends choosing to capture a memorable moment together. This of course was a time before even the oldest cameras would see widespread usage, showing us that Goya was indeed a visionary who saw the innate human desire for capturing and sharing memories to look back on later.

Goya's remarkable insight into human psyche was apparently something that became more acute late in his career, as the Black Paintings showcased imagery in equal parts horrific and truthful. It's thought they reflected Goya's own mindset as he fought mental health issues during this stage of his life. But while Heads in a Landscape may initially appear haunting, the light-hearted expressions of the individuals looking out at us also give a sense of apprehensive hope, perhaps suggesting a ray of light amidst the artist's own darkness. We may even read into this that the mischievous characters set amidst a clouded landscape directly represent the artist who created them. Today, Heads in a Landscape remains part of a private collection while the other Black Paintings (fourteen in total) can all be seen at the Prado Museum in Madrid.