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Promenades of an Impressionist By James Huneker Characters: 9031

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Goya was a Titan among artists. He once boasted that "Nature, Velasquez, and Rembrandt are my masters." It was an excellent self-criticism. He not only played the Velasquez gambit in his portraits, the gambit of Rembrandt in his sombre imaginative pieces, but he boldly annexed all Spain for his sinister and turbulent art. He was more truly Spanish in the range and variety of his performances than any Spanish-born painter since Velasquez. Without the sanity, solidity, nobility of Velasquez, whose vision and voice he never possessed; without the luscious sweetness of Murillo, whose sweetness he lacked, he had something of El Greco's fierceness, and much of the vigour of Ribera. He added to these influences a temperament that was exuberant, fantastic, morose, and pessimistic yet humorous, sarcastic, sometimes melting, and ever masterful. He reminds one of an overwhelming force. The man dominates the painter. A dozen comparisons force themselves upon you when the name of Goya is pronounced: comets, cataracts, whirlwinds, and wild animals. Anarch and courtier, atheist and decorator of churches, his "whole art seems like a bullfight," says Richard Muther. One might improve on this by calling him a subtle bull, a Hercules who had read Byron. "Nature, Velasquez, and Rembrandt!" cries MacColl in a too brief summary. "How inadequate the list! Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Legion had a hand in the teaching."

Goya incarnated the renaissance of old Spain and its art. Spanish art has always come from without, for its foundations were northern and Flemish. The Van Eycks and Van der Weyden were studied closely; Jan Van Eyck visited Madrid. The Venetian influence was strong, and El Greco his life long, and a pupil of Titian as he was, this gloomy painter with the awkward name of Theotocopoulo endeavoured to forget his master and became more Spanish than the Spanish. Ribera, emotional, dramatic, realistic, religious, could sound the chords of tenderness without the sentimentalism of Murillo. Goya stems more from Caravaggio and Salvator Rosa than from any of his predecessors, except Velasquez. The presence of Tiepolo, the last of the Venetians, in Spain may have influenced him. Certainly Raphael Mengs, the "Saxon pedant," did not-Mengs associated with Tiepolo at Madrid. It is in company with the bravos of the brush, Caravaggio and Rosa, that Goya is closely affiliated. We must go to Gustave Courbet for a like violence of temperament; both men painted con furia; both were capable of debauches in work; Goya could have covered the walls of hell with diabolic frescoes. In music three men are of a like ilk: Berlioz, Paganini, Liszt. Demoniacal, charged with electric energy, was this trinity, and Goya could have made it a quartet.

But if Spain was not a country of original artists-as was Italy, for example-she developed powerful and astounding individualities. Character is her leit motìv in the symphony of the nations. The rich virility and majestic seriousness of her men, their aptitudes for war, statesmanship, and drama, are borne out in her national history. Perhaps the climate plays its part. Havelock Ellis thinks so. "The hard and violent effects, the sharp contrasts, the strong colours, the stained and dusky clouds, looking as if soaked in pigment, may well have affected the imagination of the artist," he writes. Certainly the landscapes of Velasquez could not be more Spanish than they are; and, disagreeing with those who say that he had no feeling for nature, the bits of countryside and mountain Goya shows are truly peninsular in their sternness. It may be well to remark here that the softness of Tuscany is not to be found in the lean and often arid aspects of Spain. Spain, too, is romantic-but after its own fashion. Goya revived the best traditions of his country's art; he was the last of the great masters and the first of the moderns. Something neurotic, modern, disquieting, threads his work with devilish irregularity. He had not the massive temper of Velasquez, of those men who could paint day after day, year after year, until death knocked at their ateliers. As vigorous as Rubens in his sketches, Goya had not the steady, slow nerves of that master. He was very unequal. His life was as disorderly as Hals's or Steen's, but their saving phlegm was missing. In an eloquent passage-somewhere in his English Literature-Taine speaks of the sanity of genius as instanced by Shakespeare. Genius narrowly escapes nowadays being a cerebral disorder, though ther

e was Marlowe to set off Shakespeare's serene spirit, and even of Michael Angelo's mental health and morals his prime biographer, Parlagreco, does not speak in reassuring terms. Goya was badly balanced, impulsive, easily angered, and not slow to obey the pull of his irritable motor centres when aroused. A knife was always within reach. He drove the Duke of Wellington from his presence because the inquisitive soldier asked too many questions while his portrait was being blocked out. A sword or a dagger did the business; but Wellington returned to the studio and, as Mr. Rothenstein tells us, the portrait was finished and is now at Strathfieldsaye. A sanguine is in the British Museum. His exploits in Rome may have been exaggerated, though he was quite capable of eloping with a nun from a convent, as is related, or going around the top of the Cecilia Metella tomb supported only by his thumbs. The agility and strength of Goya were notorious, though in a land where physical prowess is not the exception. He was picador, matador, banderillero by turns in the bull ring. After a stabbing affray he escaped in the disguise of a bull-fighter.

If he was a dompteur of dames and cattle, he was the same before his canvas. Anything that came to hand served him as a brush, an old brown stick wrapped up in cloth, a spoon-with the latter he executed that thrilling Massacre, May 2, 1808, in the Prado. He could have painted with a sabre or on all fours. Reckless to the degree of insanity, he never feared king or devil, man or the Inquisition. The latter reached out for him, but he had disappeared, after suffering a dagger-thrust in the back. When on the very roof of his prosperity, he often slipped downstairs to the company of varlets and wenches; this friend of the Duchess of Alba seemed happier dicing, drinking, dancing in the suburbs with base-born people and gipsies. A genre painter, Goya delighted in depicting the volatile, joyous life of a now-vanished epoch. He was a historian of manner as well as of disordered souls, and an avowed foe of hypocrisy.

Not "poignantly genteel," to use a Borrovian phrase, was he. Yet he could play the silken courtier with success. The Arabs say that "one who has been stung by a snake shivers at a string," and perhaps the violence with which the painter attacked the religious may be set down to the score of his youthful fears and flights when the Inquisition was after him. He was a sort of Voltaire in black and white. The corruption of churchmen and court at this epoch seems almost incredible. Goya noted it with a boldness that meant but one thing-friends high in power. This was the case. He was admired by the king, Charles IV, and admired-who knows how much!-by his queen, Marie Louise of Parma, Goya painted their portraits; also painted the portraits of the royal favourite and prime minister and Prince de la Paz, Manuel Godoy-favourite of both king and queen. Him, Goya left in effigy for the scorn of generations to come. "A grocer's family who have won the big lottery prize," was the witty description of Théophile Gautier when he saw the picture of the royal family.

Curiously enough, this Goya, who from the first plucked success from its thorny setting, was soon forgotten, and until Gautier in 1840 recorded his impressions in his brilliant Voyage en Espagne, critical literature did not much concern itself with the versatile Spaniard. And Gautier's sketch of a few pages still remains the most comprehensive estimate. From it all have been forced to borrow; Richard Muther in his briskly enthusiastic monograph and the section in his valuable History of Modern Painting; Charles Yriarte, Will Rothenstein, Lafond, Lefort, Condé de la Vinaza-all have read Gautier to advantage. Valerian von Loga has devoted a study to the etchings, and Don Juan de la Rada has made a study of the frescoes in the church of San Antonio de la Florida; Carl Justi, Stirling Maxwell, C.G. Hartley should also be consulted. Yriarte is interesting, inasmuch as he deals with the apparition of Goya in Rome, an outlaw, but a blithe one, who, notebook in hand, went through the Trastevere district sketching with ferocious rapidity the attitudes and gestures of the vivacious population. A man after Stendhal's heart, this Spaniard. And in view of his private life one is tempted to add-and after the heart, too, of Casanova. Notwithstanding, he was an unrivalled interpreter of child-life. Some of his painted children are of a dazzling sweetness.

GOYA

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