Francisco José de Goya and Modern Art

Francisco José de Goya (1746-1828) was included in the Armory Show as the first artist in the organizers’ timeline of modern art. The chronology of modern art devised by Arthur B. Davies–president of the Armory Show exhibition committee, aka the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS)–grouped Goya with Ingres, Delacroix and Courbet as a forerunner of modern art. 

Goya’s inventive, visceral and dark compositions captured the social and political strife of contemporary Spanish life in the wake of the Age of Enlightenment and offered a glimpse into future artistic trends. His subject matter–including the carnage of war, witchcraft and superstition, troubadours and candid scenes of daily life–deeply influenced the Romantic and Realist schools that emerged in France and created an artistic tradition in Spain that would later be revisited by Manet, Picasso and Dalí, among others.

The only work by Goya in the Armory Show was a miniature painting on ivory of a Monk Talking to an Old Woman, a rather grotesque pair, which is now at the Princeton University Art Museum. Goya painted this work at the end of his career in 1824-25, after he left Spain to spend his final years in Bordeaux.

 From a group of six etchings with aquatint and drypoint executed in Bordeaux between 1824 and 1828

The inclusion of a miniature painting by Goya may seem a bit contrived, but even more surprising was the fact that this very small work was installed in the main entry gallery along with a hodgepodge of American and European decorative arts, paintings and sculpture. Goya’s name was rarely cited in the literature accompanying the Armory Show and, unlike Ingres, Delacroix and Courbet, he was not installed at the “beginning” of any particular movement, but stood alone, separate from a specific line of progeny. It seems that Goya was a necessary component in the canon of modern art, however the AAPS failed to procure a noteworthy example of his work. The Goya miniature was lent to the exhibition by AAPS member and collector John Quinn, a New York lawyer who also purchased between $5,000 and $6,000 worth of art in the Armory Show (approximately $118,000 to $141,000 today).

Édouard Manet’s 1863-67 aquatint Au Prado II shows Goya’s influence on the artist.

In the 19th century, Goya’s inventive genius was disseminated mostly through series of his etchings and lithographs, published both during his lifetime (e.g. Los Caprichos and La Tauromaquia) and posthumously (Los Desastres de la Guerra in 1863 and Los Proverbios in 1864). The Goya prints in Swann’s sale arguably represent the aspect of the artist’s oeuvre that was most influential to later French Realists and Impressionists as they were far more accessible than his paintings. While Eugène Delacroix was an avid collector of Goya’s prints, for example, his style and technique were also emulated by equally influential French artists such as Édouard Manet.