John Mcewen com­ments on Self-por­trait

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting -

Goya only be­gan do­ing por­traits in his thir­ties, but they would con­sti­tute a third of his out­put as a painter. He was ap­pointed Deputy Di­rec­tor of the Span­ish Royal academy in 1785, Di­rec­tor of Paint­ing in 1795 and Painter to the King in 1799.

as hon­est in his por­traits as he was un­ortho­dox in his ideas, he told his stu­dents: ‘There are no rules in paint­ing. To make ev­ery­one study in the same way and fol­low the same path com­pul­so­rily seriously im­pedes the devel­op­ment of young peo­ple who prac­tise this dif­fi­cult art: an art which is nearer to the di­vine than any other, since it is con­cerned with ev­ery­thing God cre­ated.’

His son Javier later re­called: ‘He looked with ven­er­a­tion at Velázquez and Rem­brandt, but above all he looked at Na­ture, whom he called his mis­tress.’ The year of that stu­dent ad­dress, 1792, a se­vere ill­ness left him deaf for life, soon forc­ing him to re­sign his aca­demic post.

This late por­trait fol­lowed years of tur­bu­lence and war: the im­po­si­tion of French rule un­der Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bon­a­parte and the re­in­state­ment of the Span­ish Fer­di­nand VII, whose re­pres­sive reign would soon force Goya into French ex­ile. In april, he was fi­nally cleared of col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Napoleonic regime. Sim­i­larly, the In­qui­si­tion with­drew its enquiry into five ‘ob­scene paint­ings’, one the fa­mous Naked Maja.

With char­ac­ter­is­tic hon­esty, Goya por­trayed him­self un­der­stand­ably di­shev­elled—wig askew, grey hair show­ing, shirt dis­ar­ranged—as he re­signed him­self to old age.

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