- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Visitors will come across the woman almost accidentally not once, but twice in the "Goya: Images of Women" exhibit, which opens tomorrow at the National Gallery of Art. The woman reclines on a green velvet sofa covered by a transparent sheet and supports herself with plumped, lace-decorated pillows. She could be lounging in a bordello. Or as in actuality she represents modern woman at the end of 18th-century, Enlightenment Spain.

These are among the most famous paintings by Francisco Goya y Lucientes. "Clothed Maja (Maja Vestida)" is sensual while Goya's "Naked Maja (Maja Desnuda)" seems almost pornographic. (Maja, pronounced "maha," refers to young, lower-class women who dressed in the traditional Spanish costume that became a favorite with the nobility.) The nude was done between 1797 and 1800 and the clothed image from 1800 to 1805.

The precisely painted naked female, long thought to be Maria Teresa Cayetana, the Duchess of Alba rumored to be Goya's famous, flamboyant mistress looks directly at us. The shimmering pink-green tonal gradations of her flesh are as amazing and seductive as the brazen look with which she engages our eyes. The maja's unbelievably slender legs turn toward us and the voluptuous breasts fall to each side of her body.

Goya adopted a new approach to the female nude with this painting, which predicted the later, forthright "Olympia" by Edouard Manet and even the prostitutes painted by Egon Schiele in the early 1900s in Vienna.

The clothed maja adopts a similar pose. Her white satin gown clings to her slightly parted legs, ends near the tips of her golden shoes and repeats the luminescence of the naked maja's skin. Goya set her higher in the picture than he did the nude maja; the sharp, right angles of her elbows create a powerful grid for the rest of the painting. Her gaze is slightly averted. In addition to the white gown, Goya dressed her in brilliant gold, black and rose.

The "Majas" are the centerpiece for this first major exhibit of Goya's paintings of women, which encompasses 115 paintings, drawings, paintings of women, which encompasses 115 paintings, drawings,prints, cartoons and tapestries.

"I wanted to show his major artistic and philosophical preoccupations through his representations of women," says exhibit curator Janis Tomlinson, a Goya expert and director of Arts in the Academy at the National Academies in Washington,

Another version of the National Gallery's show began at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid last winter. Miss Tomlinson expanded on the original exhibition by displaying Goya's early tapestry cartoons, or studies, together with the finished tapestries for the first time in the United States. They show Goya's early style when he arrived in Madrid in 1775 at age 21 to design tapestries for the Royal Tapestry Factory. They also reveal the artist's debt to the insouciance of the French rococo painter Antoine Watteau and other French artists. Also in the show is one of Goya's masterpieces, the complex and sometimes enigmatic "The Family of the Infante Don Luis" (1784), having its premiere in the United States.

French writers such as Charles Baudelaire were determined to identify Maria Teresa Cayetana as the model for Goya's "Majas," but Miss Tomlinson rejects those assertions. "There's absolutely no resemblance between the oval-shaped face, arched eyebrows, abundant hair and thin nose of Cayetana and the squatter, level-browed visages of the majas," she says.

In fact, the woman may not have been a maja because she does not wear the customary dress. Rather, she was probably a Gypsy. Scholars believe Goya painted pendant majas for Manuel Godoy, prime minister to King Charles IV, and that Godoy's mistress, Pepita Tudo, posed for the painting. Godoy, then the most powerful man in Spain, could have commissioned "The Naked Maja" for his palace. Men such as Godoy commissioned paintings like this for their private collections, called "cabinets."

The Spanish church forbade renderings of the naked human form. The church discovered the majas after Godoy's downfall during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain and called Goya before the Inquisition in 1814. Although Goya was identified as the artist, no documentation remains about his punishment.

The exhibition does not neglect well-known works produced by Goya's dark side, probably brought on by illness in 1793. He began mocking the women he eulogized before and dysfunctional relationships between the sexes in his savage "Los Caprichos" ("Caprices") of 1797. Goya turned his drawings titled "Suenos," or "Dreams," into an 84-part series of innovative etchings that attacked Spain's and probably universal social ills and human weaknesses.

His fantasies led him to portray women as flying witches. He also depicted 18th-century Spanish women in various characterizations: as angry mothers who mercilessly flogged their children, as victims of arranged marriages that could not be dissolved, as almost-imbecilic followers of fashion and as old women enmeshed in their vanities. The men of "Caprichos" do not have a better fate and participate fully in the social ills and inequities that Goya showed.

The artist became seriously ill when he visited the wealthy businessman Sebastian Martinez, his patron, in Cadiz in November 1792. Attacks of dizziness, deafness and difficulty with balance plagued Goya. Bedridden for two months, he thought he was mad. Explanations of his sickness vary from syphilis to schizophrenia. He became chronically depressed.

Plumbism, or lead poisoning from the white lead pigment he used so freely, is believed to be the most likely cause. To achieve his shimmering luminosity, Goya ground his own pigments. He also used cinnabar, a compound of mercury, and may have inhaled much too much of the toxic materials.

His psychological and physical crises caused Goya to mistrust both himself and other people. The artist increasingly looked to his imagination, dreams and nightmares for inspiration. He filled his sketchbooks with ironic caricatures and nightmare visions at the same time he produced the "gentlemen's paintings" images of reclining or sleeping women of the majas and the elegant portraits of 1795 to 1816.

Portraiture was the artist's bread and butter for most of his life. Goya was interested in revealing the sitter's personality and psychic power rather than painting a detailed, realistic likeness.

He had become Madrid's most popular portraitist by the early 1790s and painted some of the most powerful women of the day. Among them were Queen Maria Luisa, an ugly woman noted for her vanity. Goya apparently loved children and dogs, as displayed in his exquisite, sympathetic "Maria Teresa de Bourbon y Vallabriga, Later Countess of Chinchon" (1783).

The artist painted his more impressive renderings of royal and aristocratic women in his middle years. His direct, focused portrait of "Maria Antonia Gonzaga, Marchioness of Villafranca" (1795), mother-in-law of the Duchess of Alba, was a significant step forward. She's slightly stooped but looks straight ahead.

Goya's stylings show the pout of the voluptuous "Therese-Louise de Sureda," wife of the painter's friend, Bartolome Sureda; the dramatic, three-quarter turning of the beautiful "Isabel de Porcel," dressed in a black lace mantilla and rose satin jacket; and the wistful look of the successful actress Antonia Zarate.

His talent for psychic expression extended to such family portraits as the charming, enormous "Family of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna" (1787-88). He shows the affectionate parents with their children. The duchess, who was active in supporting scientists, painters, musicians and poets, is the quintessential Enlightenment woman. Without cosmetics or jeweled adornment, she looks directly at the viewer. Goya also manages to include a favorite little dog.

The exhibit ends with the artist's well-known "Disasters of War," hardly seen in his lifetime, and the "Disparates," etchings considered the artist's most enigmatic images. He had already painted "The Third of May, 1808" in which Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers slaughter the helpless Spanish participants of the revolt. The most powerful "Disasters" portrayed men more than women, and the curator is at a disadvantage with her focus on females. Still, Goya's scenes of rapes, executions and women joining in the battles are well worth a look.

Goya, with his companion, Leocadia Zorrilla, and her young daughter, Rosario, exiled himself at age 77 to Bordeaux, France, in 1824. Ferdinand VII was a despotic ruler who would have punished Goya for the "Disasters." The artist became seriously ill in 1825 and died in 1828.

By concentrating on Goya as seen through his images of women, Miss Tomlinson excludes some of the artist's most powerful works: the terrifying "Colossus" (circa 1802-12), which anticipated the "Black Paintings" of 1819 to 1823 ( the horrific "Saturn Devouring His Children," 1820-23, is one); paintings of the Inquisition; and the "war" paintings of 1808 to 1818 that showed fierce resistance to the French occupiers.

Still, this is an extraordinarily handsome, thoughtful show, put together with generous loans from many sources. If major works such as portraits of the Duchess of Alba and "The Family of Charles IV" that focuses on the queen, could not travel, so be it. "Goya: Images of Women" is a plentitude of riches not to be missed.

WHAT: "Goya: Images of Women"

WHERE: West Building, National Gallery of Art, Third Street and Constitution Avenue NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, tomorrow through May 27


PHONE: 202/737-4215

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide