What an awesome book. I remember Robert Hughes from back in the day. He was the art critic (as well as an artist in his own right) for Time Magazine, when I used to read it religiously. He is also Australian, with rather a tumultuous past (including a five week coma following an accident), and the man has Opinions. So I was ready to hear what he had to say about the Spanish artist Francisco Goya y Lucientes.
But what I was not expecting was such a fascinating account of Spanish history following the empire period and preceding Franco. Because during that period, Spain was dirt poor, just starting to unify its various kingdoms, and its ruler, the very prosaic Carlos III, had decided that the capital should be Madrid, because of its central location. Not that there was much there there except mud. No matter, throw up a palace (and El Prado while we are at it).
But there is something big empty stone rooms need, and that’s something on the wall. Enter Goya. His first important job, as a fledgling artist, was to draw the cartoon to be translated into tapestries. Fortunately, he and the king hit it off well (they both loved hunting and often spent time at that together), and for every courtly Carlos III Lunching Before His Court, there was a Fight At The New Inn, because who does not hang up a massive tapestry of a bloody brawl in the dining hall?
Goya got one brief trip to Italy when he was young, but for the most part was not influenced by, nor even aware of what the rest of the art world was up to, as isolated as he was in Spain, which makes him so quintessentially Spanish. Walking a thin line between what his royal patrons (and the Spanish Inquisition) wished, and what he wanted to say, he created his unique series of etchings, the Caprichios and later the Desastres. And the paintings. Let me quote Hughes on the subject of The Dead Turkey.
Perhaps the world is full of dead turkeys, but not one of them could be deader than Goya’s. It may not stimulate appetite, but there is no doubt that it promotes as much sympathy as any other corpse in art.
Google it. There is no lie.