Watching others jabber soundlessly, Goya “no longer took meaning for granted,” Tomlinson notes: a detachment explicitly proclaimed when he published the Caprichos six years later. That one-man initiative to bring to Madrid a discursive and critical art culture—rather like that which Hogarth’s prints had launched in 1730s London—was surely in sympathy with ilustrado sentiments, even if Tomlinson insists that it was never in danger of censorship from the Inquisition. But with that print series, the marksman started firing his shots in the air. Who could tell where and how among the unseen public they might land, these baffling—and indeed also baffled—observations of human behavior? So began Goya’s voyage away from a located picture-making.
It was a journey outward that he would continue, between his more profitable labors, until his dying day. It passed through reimaginings of current atrocity too savage to be circulated (the Desastres would not be published till 1863), through the private dark ride of the Black Paintings inside the country mansion he occupied in the early 1820s, and on to the aleatory experiments of his final four years, little figural visions suggested by blots that formed when water droplets fell on carbon-coated ivory. By then, Goya was literally dislocated. He had fled across the Pyrenees to seek congenial company among Spanish exiles in Bordeaux, abandoning a Madrid where his efforts for the reactionary Fernando VII—the Third of May, for instance—were seemingly thought passé.
All this later work has attracted many explanations, both political and psychological. But in a sense to pin meanings on it is beside the point. For what was “modern”—to fall back to that word—was the move from arithmetic into algebra: into appointing an unknown, an x, that was at once the mystery audience and the mystery of the inventive voice within. No imagination was ever more devoted to the figure, but in those old man’s fantasias, with their lumps of hurled-about body mass, the devotion is so pure as almost to turn abstract.
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