Francisco Goya was born on this date in 1746 and worked his way up to being a court painter. So much of his other work was dark and political, that critics have always assumed that his picture of Charles IV and his family is satirical. (Goya put himself in the shadows far left.) Théophile Gautier described the royals as looking like “the corner baker and his wife after they won the lottery.”
Sometime in his mid-50s, Goya became deaf for reasons still unknown. He suffered as well from tinnitus, dizziness and vision problems, all of which led to depression. He has been variously diagnosed postmortem as having had a series of small strokes, Meniere’s disease or perhaps a small brain tumor.
In any event, the increasing darkness of his work is often blamed on ill-health. He did a series of small paintings on tin called Fantasy and Invention, among them the Courtyard with Lunatics – but it is neither fantasy or invention, since in one of his letters he mentions that ‘I saw it myself [at an asylum] in Zaragoza.’
The Caprichos came next, then a series of aquatints called the Disasters of War and finally – darkest of all – the 14 Black Paintings, which he painted on the walls of his house outside Madrid, Quinta del Sordo. (It means ‘Deaf Man’s House,’ but the reference was actually to the previous owner.)
He left the house four years before his death, dying in Bordeaux at the age of 82, which is one possible explanation why the Black Paintings remained unnoticed for almost 50 years. When the crumbling plaster was finally transferred to canvas, very little remained – but then Goya himself had never planned to exhibit them, never even talked about them.
But the authenticity of the Black Paintings has been questioned recently – Professor Juan José Junquera believes they are fakes – one suggestion is that they were painted by Goya’s son in an effort to get a higher price for the house, a theory that sounds strangely plausible. More here.