Robert Hughes, who has stunned us with comprehensive works on subjects as sweeping and complex as the history of Australia (The Fatal Shore), the modern art movement (The Shock of the New), the nature of American art (American Visions), and the nature of America itself as seen through its art (The Culture of Complaint), now turns his renowned critical eye to one of art history's most compelling, enigmatic, and important figures, Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes. With characteristic critical fervor and sure-eyed insight, Hughes brings us the story of an artist whose life and work bridged the transition from the eighteenth-century reign of the old masters to the early days of the nineteenth-century moderns.
With his salient passion for the artist and the art, Hughes brings Goya vividly to life through dazzling analysis of a vast breadth of his work. Building upon the historical evidence that exists, Hughes tracks Goya's development, as man and artist, without missing a beat, from the early works commissioned by the Church, through his long, productive, and tempestuous career at court, to the darkly sinister and cryptic work he did at the end of his life.
In a work that is at once interpretive biography and cultural epic, Hughes grounds Goya firmly in the context of his time, taking us on a wild romp through Spanish history; from the brutality and easy violence of street life to the fiery terrors of the Holy Inquisition to the grave realities of war, Hughes shows us in vibrant detail the cultural forces that shaped Goya's work.
Underlying the exhaustive, critical analysis and the rich historical background is Hughes's own intimately personal relationship to his subject. This is a book informed not only by lifelong love and study, but by his own recent experiences of mortality and death. As such this is a uniquely moving and human book; with the same relentless and fearless intelligence he has brought to every subject he has ever tackled, Hughes here transcends biography to bring us a rich and fiercely brave book about art and life, love and rage, impotence and death. This is one genius writing at full capacity about another--and the result is truly spectacular.
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November 07, 2006
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Excerpt from Goya by Robert Hughes
DRIVING INTO GOYA
I had been thinking about Goya and looking at his works for a long time, off and on, before the triggering event that cleared me to write this book. I knew some of his etchings when I was a high-school student in Australia, and one of them became the first work of art I ever bought-in those far-off days before I realized that critics who collect art venture onto ethically dubious ground. My purchase was a poor second state of Capricho 43, El sue�o de la raz�n produce monstruos ("The sleep of reason brings forth monsters"), that ineffably moving image of the intellectual beset with doubts and night terrors, slumped on his desk with owls gyring around his poor perplexed head like the flying foxes that I knew so well from my childhood. The dealer wanted ten pounds and I got it for eight, making up the last quid with coins, including four sixpenny bits. It was the first etching I had ever owned, but by no means the first I had seen. My family had a few etchings. They were kept in the pantry, face to the wall, icons of mild indecency-risqu� in their time-in exile. My grandfather, I suppose, had bought them, but they had offended my father's prudishness. They were the work of an artist vastly famous in Australia and wholly unknown outside it, a furiously energetic, charismatic, and mediocre old polymath called Norman Lindsay, who believed he was Picasso's main rival and whose bizarre mockoco nudes-somewhere between Aubrey Beardsley and Antoine Watteau, without the pictorial merits of either and swollen with cellulite transplanted from Rubens-were part of every Australian lawyer's or pubkeeper's private imaginative life.