This study is a splendid, spontaneous image of a hunter and his dog, captured by Goya in a fleeting moment, as the huntsman tracking his prey appears to have paused momentarily to cast his gaze briefly at the painter. It was once part of a group of at least eleven hunting scenes with which Goya concluded the Sepia, or Images of Spain, Album (F). This album contained the greatest variety of subjects and compositions of all Goya's albums, and as Juliet Wilson-Bareau observed, 'Despite the relatively small size of these drawings, many are among the most striking and beautiful drawings that Goya ever made' (Goya, drawings from his private albums, exhib. cat., London, Hayward Gallery, 2001, p. 92). The drawings are executed in irongall writing ink on Spanish paper, very few with captions to illuminate the subjects. The pages are numbered up to 106 and are very similar in size to those of the Inquisition Album (circa 1808-1814). Wilson-Bareau considers that the Images of Spain drawings should be dated to the same period, circa 1812-20, although Eleanor Sayre preferred a later dating, circa 1817-20 (see Goya, drawings from his private albums, 2001, p. 91).
In his earlier life, Goya had been a keen hunter, and after he moved from Saragossa to Madrid in 1775, he often wrote to his friend Martín Zapater saying how much he missed their hunting expeditions. In 1819 Goya bought a farm, Quinta del Sordo, in the countryside outside Madrid. Whether the artist actually moved to the farm or simply used it as a retreat from the city is unknown, but just at this moment in Goya's career he produced a number of beautiful images of hunting and hunters, and this must surely be in some way linked to his presence at the farm. These delightful drawings always show one or two hunters accompanied by their dogs, captured either in concentrated action or, like here, turning momentarily towards the painter -- though in this case the dog, less easily distracted, still points at the potential prey. Just visible on the right side of this strikingly sturdy peasant figure is his previous target, a woodcock, hanging from his belt. Goya is somehow capable of capturing totally convincingly the essence of this passing moment, and the message of the man's gaze, with just a few rapid and assured strokes of the brush, which, in conjunction with his masterly use of the white of the paper, creates a superbly atmospheric and strongly contrasting structure of light and shadows. As Pierre Gassier observed: ‘This play of light and shade imparts a vigorous modelling to the figures; at the same time it conveys a sharp sense of the open air and sunlight’ (op. cit., 1973, p. 495, under no. F.99).
Of Goya's eight albums of drawings, only the first small album, the Sanlúcar, remained unnumbered; in all the others Goya numbered each drawing, suggesting that the sequence of images was of some importance to him. Following the artist's death, the drawings from the Images of Spain album appear to have been particularly favoured. Most of the first thirty pages of the album are preserved in the Prado Museum, Madrid, and when Federico de Madrazo was selecting drawings from five of Goya's eight albums for the composite volume of fifty sheets for his own collection that later passed to his grandson Mariano Fortuny (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), no fewer than 29 of the sheets that he chose were taken from this album. Although it was not renumbered by Madrazo, the present drawing certainly was owned by him, as it is still attached to the distinctive pink paper backing that he used (see also 'Visiones', lot 27 in the sale on 5th February).
For more information on Goya’s Private Albums see the introduction preceding lot 25 in the sale of works from the Krugier-Poniatowski collection, on 5th February.
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