The first decades of the 19th century had been a period of great political upheaval in Spain. There had been a brief liberal interval, but when Ferdinand once again regained the throne in November 1823, he overturned the Constitution, reinstated the Inquisition, and brought reprisals against his enemies. Although Goya had been court painter, his pictorial inventions, particularly Los Caprichos and Disasters of War, his famous series of prints, and his words and actions proclaimed his tolerant outlook and belief in constitutional government. With Ferdinand’s return he went into hiding and when amnesty for political enemies was declared in May 1824, Goya petitioned for a leave of absence from his court duties, using the excuse of poor health. He left his family behind in Madrid, his son and daughter-in-law, Javier and Gumersinda, and his grandson, Mariano. Goya’s relations with his son were tense. Although when his mother died in 1812, Javier had inherited half of the couple’s property and also received a large portion of his father’s royal stipend, he continued to worry about his future inheritance. His main concern was Goya’s involvement with Leocadia Zorilla de Weiss, a woman more than 40 years younger than Goya. Goya and Leocadia had been living together since at least 1820, and Javier was afraid that she and her children, Guillermo and María del Rosario, would supplant him in Goya’s affections and inherit the remainder of his property. His suspicions only deepened when Leocadia and her young children joined Goya in Bordeaux.
Goya’s health was precarious: in 1819 he had barely survived a terrible illness and afterwards was much reduced physically. However, the move to France reinvigorated him and from the time of his arrival there until his death, he made more than 120 drawings in black crayon, invented a new type of miniature on ivory, took lithography from an essentially reproductive medium to a truly independent art form, as well as continuing to paint. What is extraordinary is that he leapt beyond the bounds of his earlier work in all these various media and developed a late style that was simplified, bold and direct. The circumstances of his exile and his greater fragility limited his painting mainly to portraits of his friends and close associates, of which fewer than a dozen survive. In some, like the present, Goya included his age in his inscription to the sitter, suggesting, as Galassi notes, “that they were as much important markers in his life as they were likenesses of particular individuals in a specific moment in time.”2
The Bordeaux paintings are very different from the court portraits and commissions of his years in Spain in both composition and technique. The first expression of this new style actually comes a little earlier with his Self Portrait with Dr. Arrieta of 1820, now in the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The painting commemorates Goya’s recovery from his illness, which is thought to have been yellow fever, and shows the artist and Eugenio García Arrieta, the doctor who saved his life. Goya looks out at us under half-closed eyes as Dr. Arrieta literally supports him, offering a glass of medicine. The large blocks of color that make up the composition, the scale of the figures and their engagement with the viewer all mark a significant break from his earlier portraiture.
The Portrait of Mariano is very different in mood but has the same directness and sense of connection with the observer. Goya paints his grandson in bust length, looking directly at us. He wears a black coat, a white shirt and white waistcoat and around his neck a large black cravat. His curly brown hair is like a halo around his head and with his large eyes and pink complexion he looks wonderfully handsome and guileless. We can see from the picture itself that Goya worked quickly and boldly. The paint is thinly and, in some places, impulsively applied, as, for example, where a grey-blue brushstroke corrects the prominent outline of Mariano’s ear. For the face, Goya uses the olive/tan ground and builds up the features in broad strokes of flesh and pink, allowing the ground to show through. He focuses mainly on the face, giving it character and volume, while the clothing is more summarily painted. He deftly paints in the small, comma-shaped scar on Mariano's proper left check, a tiny blotch on his nearly perfect beauty. On a fold of white cloth beneath the cravat are three small button-like dots, the left-most one appears to be covering a ruby red tie pin, which perhaps Goya found to be out of balance with the subdued colors of the rest of the composition.3 His painting of the cravat itself, with the heavy white strokes showing through the black, is a masterly achievement. On the reverse of the canvas he scrawls an inscription in very dilute paint: Goya á su/ nieto en 1827/ á/ los 81 de su/ edad [Goya, to his grandson, at 81 years old], which had been transcribed but never reproduced until now, with the removal of an old relining canvas (fig.1).
Perhaps the closest works from the Bordeaux period are the Portrait of Jacques (Santiago) Galos of 1826 in The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, and the Portrait of Juan Bautista de Muguiro of 1827, in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (fig. 2). The former is a bust-length portrait of comparable size, showing Galos, Goya’s banker, facing three-quarter right. He is set against a similar gray background and set so close to the picture plane he almost seems to lean into our space. Just below his white cravat is a round tie-pin, though with a black stone rather than a ruby. The Portrait of Muguiro is a larger, three-quarter length representation and depicts the man who accompanied Goya on his trip to Madrid. Muguiro is seated somewhat stiffly in a chair and looks up from his letter to stare directly at us. Like The Portrait of Mariano, it is painted in the same impulsive style and focuses on the man and his personality. However, as in the portrait of Mariano, Goya cannot resist a few bravura touches in his treatment of the white shirt front and wonderful black cravat.
Goya adored his grandson. In September 1823 he had given him the Quinta del Sordo, his house on the outskirts of Madrid, which was decorated with the celebrated Black Paintings. In Bordeaux he set aside a large portion of his pension in order to provide for Mariano and in 1827, on his brief visit to Madrid, he painted the present work, showing a remarkably handsome young man not yet twenty-one years old. As depicted by his grandfather, Mariano looks frank and straightforward, but unfortunately he did not live up to his portrait. He was a reckless and wasteful young man, who bought an aristocratic title to prop himself up and squandered the money his grandfather left him. Eventually he sold all the works by Goya that belonged to the family, although how and when this portrait left the collection remains undocumented. Fortunately Goya died in 1828 and so did not witness any of this.
1. Only P. Lafond mentions the Zubina provenance and he gives no indication of whom this might be. See Literature.
2. S.G. Galassi, “Portraits on Canvas,” in Goya’s Last Works, exhibition catalogue, New York 2006, p. 77.
3. A similar tie pin is visible in the Portrait of Jacques (Santiago) Galos.
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