Goya’s monsters go on display

Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) rose to fame quite late in his career and was in his early 40s when he was nominated to the position of court painter to Spain’s King Charles IV. Even so, he was the most original artist of his time, a genius who inspired future generations – particularly the painters of romanticism and, in the early 20th century, the Surrealists – and produced images of striking force and remarkable impact that remain pertinent today. «Goya: The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters,» a large exhibition of Goya’s engravings that opens tomorrow at the National Gallery, includes some of the most iconic images from Goya’s four famous series of engravings: «Los Caprichos» executed around 1793-8, «Los Desastres de la Guerra» from 1810-14, «La Tauromaquia» from 1816 and the «Disparates» from 1815-1824. The exhibition, which is curated by Marilena Kassimati, includes more than 200 engravings, all from the museum’s permanent collection. The engravings were purchased between 1961 and 1965 by Marinos Kalligas, the director of the National Gallery from 1949-1971. They are considered among the gems of the collection but have not been shown to the public since 1984. The current exhibition is being held on the occasion of the 180th anniversary of Goya’s death and is dedicated to Kalligas. The exhibition’s title comes from an image in the «Caprichos» series which depicts a seated male figure – presumably a writer – surrounded by animals, each of which evokes different symbolism: a lynx, cat, owls and bats. The image portrays ambiguity in the relationship between reason and imagination. The 80 etchings (reinforced with acquatint, a method that produces the effect of watercolor) in the «Caprichos» series satirize human passions, social customs and the abuses of the church. They contain savage humor but also elements of the macabre and the grotesque and are a biting critique of human nature as well as the mores of the nobility. The pieces that belong to the National Gallery are part of the first series, which were issued in 1803. The «Desastres de la Guerra» series depicts the atrocities of the war between France and Spain during the Napoleonic era. Extremely violent but also remarkably imaginative, the images are a passionate statement against war. The «Tauromaquia» images are the result of Goya’s great interest in the great Spanish tradition of bullfighting. «Disparates,» Goya’s last series, comprises fictional scenes of madness, insanity and the fantastic. The images anticipate the concept of the sublime that was later to inspire the romantic painters and the symbolists. All the engravings that belong to the the National Gallery belong to early issues. A treasure of the museum’s collection, Goya’s engravings are a fine example of the exquisite work left behind by a true artist-genius. «Goya: The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters» opens at the National Gallery (50 Vassileos Constantinou, tel 210.723.5937) tomorrow and runs to October 20.