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The Darkest Black.

Goya's Black Paintings are like scraping at the underbelly of a genius's imagination.

Universally famous, and rightly so, they are spectacular, emotive, haunting, disturbing and unique. Painted when he was an old man, secreted away from the political machinations of Madrid, he lived in Quinta Del Sordo, an extensive estate and country property on a hill in the old municipality of Carabanchel.

By this time Goya had become profoundly deaf, and reclusive, residing with his housekeeper (some say lover) and her young son. In this house Goya set about painting images that were free from commissions, patrons, or public scrutiny.

Here he depicted his thoughts, his anxieties, his losses of the past, his triumph and drifting glory, and here the paintings propel the viewer into another sphere; into an artist's environment without censure.

When I wrote THE GOYA ENIGMA it was a free fall into Spanish masculinity and Goya's power. I had always admired Goya's bravura and daring, but the deformed, jeering, helpless, leering caricatures in the Black Paintings were a revelation.

Having always been protected by the powerful, the artist had been able to create images and portraits that would have had a lesser painter publicly hanged. I often wonder if the Spanish royal family actually admired the corrosive images with which he depicted them; more painted marionettes than regal luminaries.

Which is why The Black Paintings shook me. I studied them, copied them, came to my own opinion as to why Goya painted them, and have never forgotten their first impact. Whether he created them as a record of an attempted assassination - yes, there are conspiracy theories about that - or whether he had become insane, is open to interpretation. Like the works themselves.

Or maybe it is more simple. Goya had by this time become an old man, age bringing its own shadows and demons. So perhaps he painted those phantasmagorical companions to create another, final, audience. Putting them on his walls, where he would see them at first light, and when the candles burned out. And perhaps he saw the dog drowning in the sand and felt the same panic of an inescapable end.

Whatever anyone believes about these brutal and uncompromising works, they deserve to be appreciated.

They are images of dead people and dead dreams, but they outlive both their creator and the limits of art.



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