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'Disturbing' Goya exhibition in Spain

world Updated: Apr 15, 2008 13:07 IST
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It's not a show for the squeamish or faint hearted.

In its main spring event, Spain's Prado museum unveiled an exhibition on Monday featuring some 200 paintings and drawings by Spanish master Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, including many depicting in unnerving detail the horrors man is capable of unleashing.

"It's an exhibition to be seen, but it's not one to have a good time at," said Jose Manuel Mantilla, the museum's drawings and engravings chief. "One comes away from it distressed." Titled "Goya in Times of War," the exhibit includes 90 paintings and more than 100 drawings and engravings from a 25-year period that spanned the changeover from the 18th to the 19th century.

The show is part of Spain's 200th anniversary commemorations of the country's war of independence following an invasion by Napoleon's troops.

"Art ought to show beauty, but it should also make us reflect," said Mantilla. "This show is a reflection on man's violence, and it makes Goya universal and very contemporary."

The centerpiece of the exhibition features two large-scale masterworks, the second and third of May 1808 paintings, specially restored for the show. They depict a gruesome revolt against French forces in Madrid and the chilling reprisal by Napoleon's troops the day after.

"It's a disturbing exhibition that leaves little room for optimism," said the show's curator, Manuela Mena. The show concentrates on Goya's work after 1793, when a near-fatal illness left the artist deaf.

"He came out of the sickness renewed and started to painting differently. He was searching for independence and liberty," she said.

During this time he evolves from official Spanish court painter to an independent artist blessed with a critical eye and an exceptional talent for realism, offering an intense insight into the nature of man.

In it, he alternates from exuberant portraits of royalty in all their finery _ such as the family portrait of Carlos IV _ to dozens of paperback-book-size drawings and etchings of "Disasters of War," "Bullfighting" and "Follies," series with ironic captions depicting the cruelty, stupidities and vices of Goya's contemporaries.

Many of the works show scenes of bloody and torturous beatings and slayings, bodies piled up in heaps and people fleeing in terror. The exhibit displays works from the troubled decades covering the French revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the ensuing treaties that brought an end to the Ancien Regime in France and ushered in modern Europe.

Organizers point out that in many ways Goya was a privileged witness, something of a pictorial war reporter. But he broke with a style fashionable up to his time of eulogizing war and instead highlighted its barbarity.

"It is the artistic diary of Goya in one of the most turbulent periods of Spanish history," said Prado director Miguel Zugaza. Although the Prado has the world's largest collection of Goya, 75 per cent of the show's work comes from outside, many from private collections, such as "Majas on the Balcony" and "Marquise of Montehermoso."

For curator Mena, the show should help put an end to the myth that Goya was mad.

"The work we have before us could not come from a person not in possession of all his faculties," she said. "The madness was not inside Goya, but outside him."

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