Goya’s Witches And Old Women In Ground-breaking Exhibition

The Courtauld Gallery presents a ground-breaking exhibition of Francisco Goya’s later works, the exhibition reunites the widely scattered pages of Goya’s Witches and Old Women Album with subjects ranging from the humorous to the grotesque and sinister, as the artist explores human dreams and desires, madness and old age. The exhibition will, for the first time, attempt to reconstruct a whole Goya album in its original sequence, providing new insights into the artist’s methods and ideas.

At the age of 50, the great Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828) suffered a near-fatal illness that left him deaf and profoundly changed his life and work. Alongside his public role as court painter to the Spanish crown, Goya began to create albums of drawings. In these albums the artist recorded his private ideas and thoughts through drawings that often explore human nature at its most vulnerable – our dreams, nightmares, superstitions and mortality.

The albums were never intended to be seen beyond a small circle of friends. This gave Goya the freedom to create images which range from the humorous, to the macabre and the bitingly satirical. He produced eight albums, (known by the letters A to H), each offering rich insights into the private world of his boundless imagination. Never before have any of these albums been reunited. This exhibition is the first to do so by bringing together all the drawings from the Witches and Old Women Album.

All eight of Goya’s albums were broken up after his death in 1828 and their pages are now scattered in museums and private collections. The original order of the Witches and Old Women Album was lost and along with it an understanding as to whether it was developed as a single project or was the result of Goya’s accumulation of individual drawings. As a result of close technical study by the curatorial team and contributing museums, the exhibition will be able to propose a reconstruction of the original sequence of the drawings, gaining valuable new insights into the nature of Goya’s albums.

The Witches and Old Women Album is thought to have been made in 1819-23, the period when Goya had acquired the property outside Madrid where he completed the famous murals known as the Black Paintings. With its themes of witchcraft, dreams and nightmares, the album offers an important perspective on the development of Goya’s interest in old age, the fantastic and the diabolical. Above all, the drawings reveal his penetrating observation of human nature. Goya’s insights were coloured by his experience of the turbulent years of Spanish history, including the catastrophic war between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Spanish nation. In 1824, soon after the album is thought to have been completed, he left Spain for exile in Bordeaux.

Dr. Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of The Courtauld Gallery said: “This major exhibition will provide a milestone in the study of Goya’s drawings and a possible template for future study. I am sure that visitors will be enthralled by this view of a very private and personal Goya.”

The exhibition is curated by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, one of the foremost authorities on Goya, and Stephanie Buck, Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings at The Courtauld Gallery.

GOYA: THE WITCHES AND OLD WOMEN ALBUM – The Courtauld Gallery, London – 26 February to 25 May 2015

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