Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828)
- Los Caprichos. [Madrid: printed by Rafael Esteve for the artist, 1799.]
- ink on paper, boad and leather
11 5/8 x 7 6/8 in.; 295 x 195 mm.
Binding: Strictly contemporary Spanish brown roan with corners, 3 gold-tooled fleurons repeated, painted paper on boards, red fore-edges. Joints and spine rubbed, corners bumped.
An exceptional copy in a strictly contemporary Spanish binding.
The prints were pulled in light sepia ink, here with deeply impressed plate-marks and full margins; trial proofs or the earliest sets of the first edition: “A scratch running from the left nostril through the chin of the figure in the background appears very early in the first serial printing from the plates. In general, the trial proofs and the earliest sets of the first edition are before the scratch” (Harris, 80). Goya's Caprichos, is generally considered his finest work, and remembered for its satirical presentation of society’s follies; many specific themes and allusions, satirical or not, defy interpretation.
The printing of 300 copies (24,000 plates) was very ambitious and very few copies were sold in the first 4 years (the actual number is thought to be 27– this copy is one of these). "Indeed, in publishing his Caprichos in 1799, Goya appears to have involved himself in a commercial undertaking perhaps unique in the life of any artist-engraver past or present. Apparently carried away with enthusiasm for the art of engraving, he acquired more than eighty costly copperplates which he etched and aquatined and from which he then printed some three hundred sets, making a total of about twenty-four thousand impressions. These he advertised in the Madrid daily newspapers, as being for sale in a perfume and liqueur shop in the Calle del Desengaño No 1 above which he had lived and was probably still living at the time. The subjects were satirical, the compositions were unconventional, the technique was novel, and it is not surprising that his enterprise, unsponsored and purely private, should have met with failure in the Madrid of his day. In the course of four years he only succeeded in selling twenty-seven sets of engravings" (Harris I, p. 7).
Despite the rather inauspicious start, Los Caprichos ultimately became Goya's most popular and influential series; Domenico Tiepolo owned a set, as did Eugène Delacroix, who borrowed freely from Goya's images. No fewer than twelve editions were printed between 1799 and 1937, and it was primarily because of Los Caprichos that Goya became known outside Spain.
Contrary to his later printed works, no title page was printed; the famous self-portrait served as the frontispiece to the work. Copies in contemporary Spanish bindings, with contemporary Spanish provenance are of the utmost rarity. Harris gives a census of only 27 copies, but we do not know how many survive. In the last 30 years, if a handful of copies in contemporary binding have appeared on the market (the present one; the Josefowitz copy which sold at Christie’s, 28 January 2014, lot 9 for $1,445,000; some in the trade), none has a contemporary provenance.
One of the 27 copies sold in the first four years, following the publication, with a contemporary Spanish provenance.
Blas Ametller y Rottlan was the pupil of two Spanish engraving masters: Pedro Pascual Moles y Manuel Salvador Carmona. He started his studies in the Escuela Gratuita de Dibujo dependiente de la Junta de Comercio de Cataluña and then joined the Real Academia de San Fernando, where Goya was also a student, in the 1780s.
In 1793, Ametller won the gold medal in the engraving contest for which he presented an engraving of a painting by Goya (fig. 1), owned at the time by the Academia: the portrait of the architect Don Ventura Rodriguez (fig. 2 - today at the National Museum of Stockholm). He then engraved other paintings by Goya, including the portrait of General Jose de Urrutia (figs 3 & 4 - today at the Museo del Prado) as well as portraits of his masters: Murillo, Velazquez and, of course, Goya himself. He was considered as one of the most preeminent engraving artists of his time.
Below his booklabel, the most important Spanish Prints collector of the nineteenth century, Jaime Andreu, wrote: "Comprado à los succeses de celebrissimo grabador D. Blas Amettler por mi. Jaime Andreu [Bought from the heirs of most famous engraver D. Blas Ametller, for me]”.