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Monday, March 28, 2011

Ledgendary Painters

Down through history, a few artists have become, what we call, "a legend in their own time."  Michelangelo undoubtedly fits this description, as does Leonardo, and in our own time, probably, Picasso and Dali. They are legends such that they are instantly recognizable by a single name alone. Another artist who could also be included in this class would be the Spanish painter, Francisco Goya. He was born in 1746 and his eighty-two years upon this earth gave him ample time to establish himself as a legend on a par with Renaissance counterparts. Temperamentally much like Michelangelo, Goya was a painter's painter; devoted to his art; reported to have died with a palette in his hand; admired by his contemporaries; but much more so by generations of etchers and portrait painters who have since come to worship his efforts.

Charles IV of Spain and his Family,
1800-01, Francisco Goya

Legend has it that this master painter worked with such effortless agility he could complete a painted likeness in as little as two or three hours. This no doubt was a quality much admired by the impatient, spoiled royalty of the Spanish court for whom he worked much of his life. His group portrait of the exceedingly homely family of King Charles IV probably did more to destroy any notion of nobility of this unnoteworthy ruling clan than all the exclamations of Spanish royal adversaries put together. Yet strangely enough, Goya managed to pull it off while maintaining himself in the good graces of his royal patron.

The Naked Maja, 1800, Francisco Goya
Along the same lines, one of Goya's most famous paintings, the Naked Maja, a nude portrait of the Duchess of Alva (who may or may not have been his mistress), was nonetheless much admired by those few close friends of the artist privileged to have seen it.  Her husband, the Duke, however, in hearing rumors of the artist's indiscretion in having painted his wife in the nude, (and perhaps suspecting Goya had more than an artistic interest in her portrayal) made known that he would visit the artist's studio to see for himself. 
The Clothed Maja, 1803, Francisco Goya

The next day, when he descended upon the Goya's humble abode, he found his wife's picture, rendered quite beautifully, but also quite tastefully dressed. In a single night, Goya was reported to have painted a second version, now known as The Clothed Maja, to avoid the wrath of her outraged husband. The legend, of course, is just that, a legend. Both paintings do exist, but the second was done several years later, after the duchess became a widow. Somehow, I like the legend better.

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