La Tauromaquia, a set of 33 prints that illustrates the art of bullfighting from its medieval origins through to Goya’s day, is one of the artist’s most celebrated and technically masterful works in any medium. Goya printed and published the plates in 1816; he was by then 70 years old and at the height of his artistic capacities.
By this mature stage in his career, the subject of bullfighting had held a lifelong significance for the artist. In these plates, as Robert Hughes describes: ‘Goya was looking back, mainly to experiences of his youth, when he was an aficionado and may even, so legend and rumour had it, have got in the ring with his own sword… Charles Yriarte, one of Goya’s earliest biographers, wrote that he had seen a letter from him to Martín Zapater (now lost) signed “Francisco, el de los toros [he of the bulls].” Certainly, he always found pleasure and sometimes a kind of psychic healing—a relief from depression—in going to the corrida.’ (Robert Hughes, Goya, p. 359).
The present set of Goya’s Tauromaquia is a fine example from the first and only lifetime edition of the series. The quality of the impressions in the set is excellent: they are printed in a dark umber ink, characteristic of the earlier sets from the edition, and the aquatint, which quickly degrades during the process of printing, is seen here intact. This is crucial to the visual impact of the works, as it is only when the aquatint in the Tauromaquia plates prints so richly and evenly that the impressions display the full qualities of chiaroscuro, with brilliant contrasts and subtle nuances in tonality, and the marvellous sense of space and three dimensionality, that Goya must have originally envisaged.
The importance of this set is enhanced by its notable provenance. Early in their history the plates belonged to the esteemed collector, writer and publisher, Marcel Louis Guérin. When Guérin sold his collection in a 1921 sale in Paris, the expert in charge of the sale was Loys H. Delteil, whose formative publication, Le Peintre-Graveur Illustré, comprised two volumes on Goya. The set since formed part of the collection of Tomás Harris, author of Goya: Engravings and Lithographs (1964): the culmination of a lifelong dedication to studying Goya’s prints and still the canonical source on the subject.
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