Two hundred years have passed since then, but at least one thing has not changed: Spanish artist Francisco Goya.
“I often get asked whether exhibiting contemporary art in these galleries would be appropriate,” says Miguel Falomir, the director of the Prado Museum. “But I believe nothing could be more contemporary than Goya’s work on paper.
The importance of Goya in the context of the museum, and his relevance to our current era convinced those in charge that the anniversary celebrations – that started in November 2018 with a parade through the museum’s collections – should end with the artist.
The museum owns the most complete collection of Goya’s drawings in the world, but they cannot be on permanent display due to their conservation requirements. This means they are only shown on special occasions, such as the 2015 exhibition of 80 Goya drawings at the Santander Botín Foundation – one of the entities collaborating in the current exhibition.
Indeed it was at this exhibition that Matilla had a “revelation.” Conventions dictate that the drawings, because of their small size and the attention they require, should be displayed on a dark background.
But Matilla, the head of the Prado’s conservation of drawings and prints, decided to turn that on its head. Those who see the Goya exhibit in the Prado are surprised by the lack of color on the walls.
This strategy gives the space the white cube look of a modern art gallery, and means that lightning that is less damaging to the paper can be used.
The bold arrangement of the works, designed by Juan Alberto García de Cubas, adds to this modern feel.
The etchings are displayed in 23 blocks around two structures in the shape of a cross, which expand the exhibition space. The drawings are well-numbered to allow the visitor to follow the thread chronologically and thematically.
Visitors to the exhibition will be able to take a look at Goya’s famous Italian Sketchbook, the first bought by the artist to sketch his ideas on his first stay in Rome, where he would sit by fountains to perfect his sketching technique. Next in the exhibition are Goya’s Pilar Basilica frescoes in Zaragoza, followed by his commercial etchings inspired by Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, letters complete with doodles, more sketchbooks from places such as Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Madrid and Burdeos, lesser-known series such as The Magic Mirror, and the creative se of his famous print collections in which his dreams mix with nightmares and criticism with irony, namely Los Caprichos, La Tauramaqui (or, Bullfighting), Los Disparates (or, The Follies) and Los Desastres de la Guerra (or, The Disasters of War).
Some of the drawings are mounted on pedestals; in the case of the Sueño de Bruja Principianta (or, Dream of a Beginner Witch, 1797), this allows the visitor to get an insight into what was going on in the mind of the artist, who drew on both sides of the page.
In a different room, work from one of the three albums that were artificially put together from the sketchbooks by Goya’s son Javier after the artist’s death, have been taken from the album and displayed on the wall. This album was sold in 1866 by Goya’s grandson Mariano to the Trinidad Museum, whose collection merged with the Prado’s six years later.
The arrival of these works was key for the Prado and its relationship with Goya, whose association with the museum came early on, though it’s impossible to say if it was early enough for him to be present at its inauguration. Curator Manuela Mena likes to think that perhaps Goya left his house for the grand event that day, which she describes as “a very cold day in Madrid,” and then later fell sick with the illness that would take him a month to recover from.
“Thank me for this bad handwriting,” he said. “Because [I have] neither sight, nor pulse, not pen, nor inkwell, I lack everything and only my strength of will remains.
The passion for collecting work by Goya has been a constant throughout the Prado’s 200-year existence.
English version by Heather Galloway.