Francisco Goya’s works of art evoke violently different reactions in their viewers, but whether you find them haunting or enchanting there is no division of opinion on his skill as one of history’s most unique and talented portrayers of the human form, with an uncanny ability to imprint on his figures, especially the tiny bodies depicted in his sketchbooks, a full range of human character and emotion. It is in these sketchbooks that Goya’s figurative work really comes into its own and it is for this reason that the current exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery is of particular prominence.
For the first time since their scattering, the pages of Goya’s Witches and Old Women Album have been reunited. These pages take you on a journey through a sinister yet sometimes humorous world of magic, nightmares, and fantasy. Intimately constructed for the artist’s own pleasure and never meant for the eyes of anyone more than close friends, this collection is Goya at his freest; exploring the vulnerabilities and simple pleasures of humanity that most troubled and captivated him.
Goya produced eight albums in total in later life after he was profoundly affected by a sever illness that left the artist deaf. These volumes seem to have provided Goya somewhere to explore and exorcise his demons. None of the albums have been reunited since they were broken up after his death in 1828, their pages are now scattered throughout museums and private collections across the globe. This exhibition provides a rare chance to see one of his albums as it was originally intended to be viewed.
Remarkably, all twenty-two surviving pages have been brought together and are displayed alongside a number of Goya’s other works on paper including prints and pages from his other albums; the Black Border Album and his iconic work the sleep of reason produces monsters being worthy of particular note. The exhibition encompasses the main album’s themes of nightmares, dreams, witchcraft, old-age, frailty, and fear and has been made possible by the cooperation of 16 museums and several private collectors.
The production of this unique exhibition has therefore been no mean feat and provides a rare, one-off opportunity to study the complete album. Scrutinised by a large team of experts, the album has been reconstructed and hung in its original sequence around the largest room of the exhibition. Altogether in one room, detailed explanations of each page accompany the collection, allowing the viewer to experience each work in sequence.
This exhibition of Goya’s complete works from the Witches and Old Women Album reunited for the first time since around 1830, will remain so at the Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, until May 25th. For more information go to http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2015/goya/index.shtml
Maxine Kirsty Sapsford, Arts Editor