Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was born in Fuendetodas, Spain, in 1746 and died in Bordeaux, France in 1828. During his 60-year career he created works that defied conventional stylistic classification, culminating in his Black Paintings.
In the 1760s the young Goya worked as an apprentice to the artist José Luzán, from whom he learned to draw. In 1786 he became the first Court Painter to the Spanish Crown. In that position he painted portraits of members of the Spanish royal family during the reigns of three kings – Carlos III, Carlos IV and Fernando VII.
However, it was for his unofficial work that he became most renowned. In paintings, drawings and etchings notable for scenes of violence and destruction, he recorded historic events – including Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808 – and presented a critique of prevailing ideals, morals, social structures and religious institutions. During the 1808 invasion he witnessed the suffering of his subjugated countrymen and saw only desolation, misery and bloodshed.
The Court Painter found almost everyone at court to be utterly corrupt, and each king worst than the last. Goya was travelling a dangerous path: painting formal portraits of the royal family by day, and by night recording the social and political environment as he saw it, without filters. His views were those of the Enlightenment, opposing religious fanaticism, social injustice and senseless cruelty.
In 1799 Goya published the series of etchings entitled Los Caprichos, a satirical social commentary on Spain at the end of the 18th century that attests to the artist's political liberalism, his revulsion at ignorance and intellectual oppression, and his ambivalence towards authority and the Church. Filled with a remarkable cast of exquisitely drawn characters ranging from aristocrats to goblins, Los Caprichos conjures up a haunting vision of a world on the margins of reason, where there are no clear boundaries between reality and fantasy.
Goya withdrew Los Caprichos from the market after only a few weeks, presumably under pressure from groups such as the clergy who felt they were being attacked. In 1803 he gave the plates and all 240 remaining printed sets to the King as a gift. This secured its survival: in the possession of the royal family, Los Caprichos was reprinted in 12 editions between 1799 and 1937. A full set of the 5th edition is in our collection.
MAMA's Collection's copy of Los Caprichos was part of the Daniel Gift, a private collection developed by Howard and Judith Daniel that was gifted to MAMA between 1989 and 1997.
Los Caprichos came to us as a complete series of the 80 prints in a bound book. The book went on frequent display, with pages being turned to show each print over time. In 2010 the Gallery began conservation work to ensure the long-term survival of the prints. In order to conserve the works they were removed from their bindings and individually framed. (This action is completely reversible; the prints can be placed back into the original cover.)
Unbinding the book also gave greater access to the individual prints, allowing the Gallery to exhibit Los Caprichos in its entirety.