In choosing the word twilight to describe the ambience of Goya’s major secular paintings from 1789 to about 1816, I wish to suggest many things. First, this is a period of transition, possibly imperceptible to the person standing within, but nevertheless readily apparent to whomever enjoys a retrospective viewpoint. The paintings discussed here bespeak shifts in authority, in patronage, and in content that—viewed within a larger context—mark a transformation from ancien régime to restoration, from Enlightenment to “post-Enlightenment.” Yet it does not necessarily follow that the artist was aware of the changes to which his paintings offer eloquent testimony.
Twilight is a time of ambivalence: significantly, the word can be used to describe either the period preceding dawn or sunset. Anyone who thus awakens, disoriented, into twilight would not know what is to follow; similarly, the changing regimes and the alternation of progressive and conservative governments of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Spain must have left a bystander somewhat perplexed, wondering what was to come.
Created in response to constantly changing demands, Goya’s imagery resists any neatly deterministic interpretation that might seek to explain his multifaceted oeuvre by single motive. Possibly for this reason the most successful studies on the artist have been those that focus on the documentation of his oeuvre, or on one aspect of a select group of works, or on a single graphic series, such as Los Caprichos. What I here attempt is to offer a slightly more general study (examining selected and often familiar paintings that belong to a period of almost three decades), without assuming a vantage point that preordains my answers. In so doing, I might well be compared to the figure who walks a fraying tightrope in plate 77 of the Desastres de la guerra, “Que se rompe la cuerda!” Some readers will probably view my desire to interpret Goya’s paintings within their social and aesthetic context as overly deterministic from the outset; others might look in vain for a conclusion that is not there. My response might be to refer one set of readers to the other: to answer that my conclusion is my effort to situate the works within a context reconstructed from various historical sources, without resorting to general theses that owe more to the benefit of hindsight than to the painting at hand. Yet the context remains open-ended, and others may well focus on aspects that I have overlooked. For this reason, my conclusions may seem to many inconclusive.
With this in mind, I start out on my tightrope, y ojalà que no se rompa la cuerda.
I thank the American Council of Learned Societies and the Columbia University Council on Research and Faculty Development for support that facilitated the research and writing of this book, and the Arthur Ross Foundation, for providing support for the acquisition of photographic material.
Many individuals offered comments and often probing questions about Goya that served as a continual inspiration. Special thanks to Gridley McKim-Smith, for her concern with Goya, for her insights and encouragement, and to Nigel Glendinning for his unstinting support and generosity in sharing his knowledge about the artist. Many others have given help by reading original proposals for this project or portions of this manuscript. For their welcome comments I thank Suzanne Blier, Jonathan Brown, Natalie Kampen, John McCoubrey, David Rosand, John Shearman, Suzanne Stratton, Edward Sullivan, and my brother, Gary Tomlinson.
My research in Spain was facilitated by Rocío Arnáez, of the Prado Museum, and Carmen Díaz Gallegos, of the Patrimonio Nacional, who helped in researching and viewing the paintings of Goya’s lesser known contemporaries. To both, my warm thanks. I am also grateful to the staffs of the Archive and Library of the Royal Academy of San Fernando, of the Biblioteca Nacional, and of the Archivo Histórico Nacional. I would like finally to thank Judy Metro, Eliza Childs, and the staff of Yale University Press for their advice and support in seeing through the production of this book.