Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes
- Francisco de Goya
- A French soldier with a drinking companion
- Black crayon;
numbered at the top in black chalk: 51;
bears attribution in black chalk, verso: Goya
Jules Boilly, Paris;
sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 19-20 March 1869, lot 48 (album of 20 drawings, bought by Leurceau);
Alfred Ströhlin, Lausanne;
Private Collection, France;
Private Collection, Switzerland
Pierre Gassier, Les Dessins de Goya, Les Albums, Fribourg 1973, p. 644, no. H.51, reproduced p. 620
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Gassier wrote that the figure of the soldier with his broadly arched legs is typical of the artist’s Bordeaux period, and that similar figures can be found in other drawings, noting that ’All these figures give an impression of vulgar, thickset sturdiness.’1 The drawing was originally part of the second of the Bordeaux Albums, Album II, the very last of Goya’s Private Albums. Characterising the two final, Bordeaux Albums, Juliet Wilson-Bareau writes: ‘The intimate atmosphere of Bordeaux Album I, in which drawings are accompanied by Goya’s terse, jokey, sometimes even loquacious captions, gives way in Album II to a bleaker world of mainly wordless images’.2 All the drawings in the first Bordeaux Album are inscribed by the artist with captions, but only six in the second. Yet although the second Bordeaux album is largely wordless, its images are no less eloquent, but the interpretation of the inner thoughts of the artist that underlie each image is even more challenging and intriguing when working from only the pure image. Both albums do, though, cover very similar subjects, and Wilson-Bareau has suggested that Goya may have intended to add captions to the second group of drawings at a later stage.3 The main difference between the images in the two Bordeaux albums is that in the second the compositions are generally somewhat simpler, and the figures tend to occupy more of the page, sometimes, like here, leaving little or no space where a caption could have been added.
As in Bordeaux Album I, Goya made his drawings in black crayon, on French paper. He also numbered the pages of Album II in the upper right corner, the highest number being 63 (the present sheet is numbered 51). Only three pages from the sequence are not currently known. It is not possible to establish whether the two Bordeaux albums were executed simultaneously or one after the other. The drawings were made while the artist was in exile in Bordeaux, between his arrival there with his companion Leocadia Weiss in the autumn of 1824, and his death in 1828. As Juliet Wilson-Bareau pointed out when studying this drawing in the original, within the sequence of the album this sheet, numbered 51, comes soon after four of the six captioned pages (numbered between 39 and 45), which are identified through their inscriptions as recording ‘sights’ seen at the Bordeaux fair of 1826. She has therefore suggested that it is likely that the present sheet was drawn in the summer or autumn of 1826, when Goya had just turned eighty.
The reasons for Goya’s choice of black chalk as the medium for the late drawings in the Bordeaux Albums, in contrast to the ink and wash that predominates in the earlier album drawings, are not known. Goya was, though always immensely varied, creative and sophisticated in the materials that he chose and the techniques that he used. Wilson-Bareau has suggested that this choice of black chalk for the Bordeaux album drawings could have offered the aging artist a medium that was versatile, yet also easier to control – although control was hardly something that Goya struggled to achieve, even at this late date.4 Another explanation could be the strong interest that Goya developed at the end of his life for lithography, a printmaking technique with which the vibrant and pictorial effects of chalk, at least as he used it, had much in common. But whatever the reasons for this technical departure may have been, as Wilson-Bareau wrote, 'The drawings, in black chalk or crayon, constitute a brilliantly inventive set of ‘new caprichos’, as Goya himself intimated in his letter to his friend Ferrer in Paris...’5
Goya is believed to have begun to compile the first of his Private Albums of drawings in around 1794, and he continued this new and extraordinary artistic expression until his death in 1828. At the very peak of his career as a painter, Goya turned inwards to this new and totally personal form of expression, very probably just at the moment of his convalescence from a near-fatal illness, which deprived him of his hearing. During the last thirty years of his life, he drew some 550 sheets, collected into eight albums, which in the most intimate way describe Goya’s vision of humanity, with freedom of imagination and unequalled power of expression. The album drawings, generally of a totally spontaneous nature, are therefore a form of ‘visual journal’, not intended to be seen by the general public, like the artist’s prints or paintings, but only to be shared with an intimate and private circle of friends. Goya embarked on an entirely new way of communicating his unique and acute observations of the world around him, through a rich variety of highly animated images, many shocking and brutal, often, as here, reflecting an intense sensibility to the political and moral issues of his time, and manifesting at every turn the painter’s astonishingly fertile imagination.
In the unprecedented exhibition, Goya, drawings from his private albums, held at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 2001, Juliet Wilson-Bareau presented and examined the eight Private Albums in depth, and although she stressed in her introduction to the catalogue that we will never really know exactly how the albums were actually composed in Goya's own time, the exhibition revealed a great deal about their genesis, composition and subsequent fortunes after the artist's death. The drawings do not all seem to have been contained in albums from the very beginning; some were apparently kept loose by the artist in folders, and were probably only bound together by him at a later stage. All the pages of each album were, though, ultimately numbered by Goya himself, except those of the first, smaller notebook, the Sanlúcar album. After Goya’s death, the eight albums that he left were divided up and remounted twice, and since the late 19th century their pages have become widely dispersed, in public and private collections throughout the world.
With its suggested memories of past wars, complex layers of meaning which Goya has left the viewer to define, technical variety and mastery, and incredible freshness of condition, this vivid and impressive image encapsulates all the most important and engrossing qualities of Goya’s final, brilliant album drawings.
1. Gassier, loc. cit., 1973
2. Goya, drawings from his private albums, exhib. cat., London, Hayward Gallery, 2001, p. 159
4. Ibid, p. 22
5. Ibid, p. 145