Goya’s Album E is also known as the Black Border Album, named after its unique characteristic, the framing lines – double on the first 16 sheets, single thereafter – that are drawn towards the edges of the album’s relatively large pages (many of which have, though, been trimmed, thanks to their generous margins). Much more than in his earlier albums, Goya seems to concentrate in Album E on the representation of single figures, which constitute the majority of the known drawings from the album. In these images, the artist addresses his subjects directly and explicitly, and leads us into the narrative with subtle captions, inscribed in the lower margin, frequently so enigmatic that the ultimate interpretation of these meaningful images is left to the sensibility of the viewer. In the Barnet drawing, the caption reads: ‘No llenas tanto la cesta’ (‘Don’t fill the basket so full’), but this advice comes too late as in fact the elderly woman has already broken a few eggs, the remains of which are to be seen in the large shadow at her feet – the only other presence in the otherwise void page. The absence of a setting and the use of the white space in relation to the figure, which makes this image so direct and poignant, is a totally innovative element characteristic of this album, where Goya’s vision and sensibility is at its most powerfully modern.1 A surprisingly similar use of almost blank space is also to be found in the late paintings of Caravaggio, although there the artist uses darkness, not light, to capture the meaningful emptiness of space, and enhance the emotional content of the scene.2
The drawing is one of a series of depictions of old women, with which Goya began this extraordinary album. The first known sheet, originally page 2, ‘Contenta con su suerte’ (‘Content with her lot’) shows a toothless elderly woman dancing on her own shadow, to the accompaniment of her castanets.3 When sold in 1936, the Barnet drawing was paired with page 6 from the album, 'Quejate al tiempo' (‘Complain to time’), now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam4, and in all these three sheets, the single figures of elderly women are positioned by Goya in the lower part of the sheet, close to the double border. This compositional device not only adds weight to the composition, but also results in a more intense focus on the subject, and on the isolation and solitude surrounding the figure. As Juliet Wilson-Bareau observed: ‘In the first few drawings, figures have no other setting than that suggested by their own shadow; the white paper is at once ground and sky’.5 The viewer is here engaged both visually and intellectually. With incredible freedom of expression and deceptive simplicity of geometric form, Goya succeeds in achieving the maximum interaction between the old woman, drawn with such immediacy and boldness, and the viewer. Executed with the point of the brush and black ink, with translucent grey washes, accented and reinforced by pure black brush strokes, Goya skilfully deploys small areas of intense light emerging from darkness, in conjunction with his masterly use of the broad white of the paper to determine the empty space, within which, paradoxically, the figure is so brilliantly and intensely confined. Finally, as he so often did, Goya has scraped the sheet in order to revise the image, although in this case these changes are limited to an almost imperceptible revision of the contour of her hunched back, and an expansion of the highlight in the broken eggs. One of the most fascinating aspects of Goya’s draughtsmanship is the way that he often works out his developing thoughts at the same time as drawing with relentless energy, and consummate skill.
When making the drawings in Album E, Goya was once again able, as with previous album drawings, to obtain fine, strong Netherlandish paper of outstanding luminosity and quality, on which he worked with good-quality Indian ink.6 As Eleanor Sayre first pointed out, Goya seems to have put the pages of the album together in order and numbered them, but they may never have been bound. The artist’s numberings are inscribed in pen and ink in the upper centre, outside the framing lines, and the highest page number found on these sheets is 50. The later numbering (‘34’) on the present sheet, also in pen and ink, is that of the Madrazo family, who almost certainly purchased all Goya’s album drawings directly from the artist’s son Mariano, after Goya’s death.7
The Black Border Album ‘E’, has been dated to circa 1816-1820 on stylistic grounds, and on the basis of comparison with two of Goya’s late religious works, Saint Justa and Rufina, painted in 1817 for the sacristy of Seville cathedral, and the Last Communion of St. Joseph of Calasanz, painted in 1819, for the chapel of the eponymous saint in the church of San Antón Abad, Madrid.8 1819 was also the year in which the first lithographic press was established in Madrid. At this point in his life Goya was developing a fascination – which he exploited to the full a few years later – for lithography, a sophisticated printmaking technique with vibrant and pictorial effects that have a lot in common with the experimental nature and the pictorial nuances of the drawings in Album E. As Juliet Wilson Bareau has suggested, ‘it appears at least possible that Goya’s Black Border drawings…. so different from those of the other albums…may have been intended as models for a series of reproductive lithographs.’9
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.
This brilliant and powerful image, executed with all possible freedom and verve, yet at the same time fully realized and finished within its framing borderlines, encapsulates the revolutionary approach to representation so typical of the images in Goya's Private Albums, and the extraordinary pictorial quality and variety achieved in the drawings from Album E.
1 A number of drawings in Goya’s subsequent album, Album D (Witches and Old Women Album), of circa 1819-23, feature figures similarly positioned in the lower section of otherwise blank sheets. See exh. cat., op. cit., 2015.
2 See for instance The Burial of St. Lucia, Church of St. Lucia, Syracuse
3 Rotterdam, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, inv. no. S.3; see J. Wilson-Bareau, Goya, drawings from his private albums, exhib. cat. London, Hayward Gallery, 2001, no. 68
4 Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. 1973.9; Wilson-Bareau, exhib. cat. op. cit., 2001, no 70
5 Ibid., p. 113
6 Ibid., p. 113
7 Ibid. p. 20
8 Ibid, p. 18
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