Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, famously called Francisco de Goya, was a notable Spanish painter in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He is highly regarded as the most relevant artist in Spanish art history, and his works influenced other notable artists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
Goya’s artistry effortlessly straddled both classical and contemporary arts with a penchant for documenting the happenings around him through art. This unique ability earned him the befitting title of “last of the Old Masters and the moderns.” Goya’s bold painting style and its elements of subversive imagination convey the intense emotion that defined him as a Romantic painter.
In 1799, Goya was appointed as Primer Pintor de Cámara, First Chamber Painter to the Spanish royal family. The prestigious position was his first significant success, and it paved the way for other notable accolades. He also produced satirical works to critique the socio-political struggles of his time. In addition to his famous reputation, there is more to learn about the artist; in this article, we examine the man he was behind the art.
Where It All Began
Born in Spain, on March 30th 1746, Goya was the fourth of six children born to José Benito de Goya y Franque and Gracia de Lucientes y Salvador. He grew up in Fuendetodos with his lower-middle-class family before relocating to their newly acquired residence in Zaragoza.
Goya’s father specialized in gilding religious and decorative craftwork. He supervised the gild-work and ornamentation to rebuild Zaragoza’s central cathedral—the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Santa Maria del Pilar). Goya attended Escuelas Pias, a local public school that offered free education. He met Martin Zapater, a close friend with whom correspondence for about two decades played a vital part in knowing more about Francisco de Goya and his years at the Royal Court in Madrid.
At the age of 14, Goya became an apprentice under a local painter called José Luzán y Martinez; it is believed that this marked the start of his formal art training. He later moved to Madrid and furthered his training with Anton Raphael Mengs, a famous German painter among the Spanish nobility. Subsequently, Goya submitted entries for the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1763 and 1766, but he was rejected.
After the Academy’s rejection, Goya trained with Francisco Bayeu y Subías and later married his sister Josefa. Their affinity and Bayeu’s membership in the Academy eventually secured commissions for Goya to create designs for the Academy’s tapestry factory.
After working for the Academy for about five years, his designs were picked to decorate the walls of El Escorial and Palacio Real del Pardo, newly built residences for Spanish monarchs. The works of Francisco Goya caught the attention of the Spanish elite, paving the way for the creation of many of his famous paintings.
In 1783, the Count of Floridablanca commissioned artist Goya to paint a portrait of King Charles III of Spain. Soon, he had the King and other Spanish dignitaries as patrons. This led him to earn the salaried position of Court Painter to Charles III, and later in 1795, he became Director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. However, his peak position came in 1799 with his appointment as First Court Painter, the highest position honored to artists at the Royal Court of Madrid.
At the height of his professional career in the Spanish Court, Goya earned commissions from the highest quarters of the Spanish elite, including Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who commissioned several works from the artist. However, the paintings were primarily portraits for his private collection, including the infamous La Maja Desnuda (The Nude Maja); its daring nudity and speculations about its identity made it highly controversial.
After 1801, Goya seldom received royal commissions; however, he retained his annual salary and other allowances. That’s not all; he continued to serve in this capacity until the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808. The resulting war provided Goya with ample material to critique the consequences of war. It inspired his famous war series titled The Disasters of War.
Episode in the Spanish War of Independence – Goya
Artist Goya’s Personal Life And Later Years
Goya lived a guarded life, and although surviving letters and writings provide some details, little is known about his personal life. His marriage to Josefa Bayeu was characterized by multiple miscarriages, having only one son, Javier, survive into adulthood.
In 1793, he suffered a severe and undiagnosed illness, after which point his work became progressively darker. Other jobs from this period include a wide variety of paintings concerned with insanity and witchcraft, suggesting that he feared for his country’s fate, physical and mental health.
Goya had been a royally valued artist but withdrew from public life during his final years. Goya lived in solitude in his farmhouse, the Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man). His only companion was Leocadia Weiss, who lived with and cared for Goya after Josefa’s death.
Accompanied by Weiss, Goya abandoned Spain for the French city of Bordeaux in 1824. Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side, worsening his already fragile health; he died at 82 in 1828. Initially, he was buried in France, but his body was later re-interred in Madrid. Curiously, his skull was missing. The Spanish Consul communicated this bizarre detail to his superiors in Madrid, who famously responded with “Send Goya, with or without head.”
Francisco de Goya was a master of his craft, and from 19th-century art history, the decorated reputation has subsisted, outliving the artist himself. Behind the royal accolades, little is known about Goya. The sparse information about his personal life points to modest living that hardly included controversy, save for the miscarriages his marriage suffered and his later years of poor health and isolation.