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Francisco de Goya was active across the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and was able to capture his era with a skill and insight rare amongst artists. He was a gifted portraitist, and his work has ensured that many of his contemporaries retain visual immortality.
But he also had a unique ability to depict the dark undercurrents of the period in which he lived. As his work developed, this streak of bleakness and morbidity grew thicker. A typical painting from Goya's middle and late periods will be shrouded in blackness, the figures themselves illuminated yet still enveloped by shadow, as though trapped in a nightmare. Various factors, from the political turmoil of the day to personal problems in Goya's life, fed into this aspect of his art. Fourteen pictures in particular have become known as Goya's Black Paintings. The most famous of these is the gruesome, mythologically-inspired painting of Saturn devouring his son, but the other thirteen pieces are similarly striking and often more complex, depicting entire scenes of distorted figures and bleak landscapes. One such example is A Pilgrimage to San Isidro.
The painting depicts none of the piety or humility that might be expected from the sight of a pilgrimage. Clustering together in the foreground is a knot of people, their faces showing little in the way of joy; while some can be read as having jovial expressions, their postures indicate that this is the result of drunkenness. Others, meanwhile, appear blank, or even dismayed. Even the man who sings while strumming a guitar has a look of anguish upon his face. While our eyes are immediately drawn to this cluster of people, a look across the rest of the broad canvas will reveal an entire crowd spreading down the road behind and banishing into the distance. These figures are harder to interpret: often their faces are hidden, leaving only the silhouettes of black hats and hoods.
The impression is sorrowful, even funereal. Meanwhile, the land across which they travel is bleak and barren, while the sky is colourless and fog-shrouded. The dominant hue is grey tinged with a muddied yellow, and this extends across the entire scene: even the figures on the pilgrimage vanish into the surrounding murk towards the end of their trail. If you would like a truly attention-grabbing piece of art to display at your home, then a print of A Pilgrimage to San Isidro by Francisco de Goya will make an ideal choice. This is on of the rae paintings that succeeds in conjuring up an entire world.