Disasters, war, hunger and human suffering fanned the imagination of iconic 18th century Spanish artist Goya, who captured the horrors of Napoleon’s invasion of Spain on canvas, drawings and etchings. Now his legacy has travelled all the way to India.
A comprehensive exposition of Goya’s wartime etchings, Chroniclers of All Wars: The Disasters and War Photography, has brought his prints to the capital at the Instituto Cervantes.
"Goya’s war prints are the precursor to the language that developed into photography. He belonged to the period of photography despite the fact that modern photographs as a documentary genre evolved after his death because he believed in the democratisation of expression through prints," claims Juan Bordes, curator of the exhibition.
Bordes adds, "The inky emulsion (burin) used by Goya in his prints was the same as that of modern black-and-white photography, developed manually by the late 19th century pioneers."
The collection, which opened recently, features original prints of 82 etchings from Goya’s personal recollections of war, "Los Desastros de la Guerra", which he made a year after visiting the battle field in the city of Saragossa during the war of independence in 1808 at the invitation of the defenders of Spain against France.
Goya, whose name was actually Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, later etched the drawings on three volumes of metal plates to print the series later.
The etchings were compiled into three sets of chalcographic prints — an early genre of aquatint — in 1863 several decades after the artist’s death in 1826.
The realistic drawings — which document everyday sufferings of the common people of Spain during the wars and hunger — today exists in six set of prints with additional prints made after the artist’s death in 1826. The collection has been brought to India by the Fine Arts Academy of San Fernando, which owns the 82 metal plates of Goya’s war chronicles.
The institute, which traces its origin to the Spanish kingship, had Goya on its rolls as a member in the early 18th century.
The collection on display at the Instituto Cervantes in the capital has a contemporary tweak. It tries to establish a link between Goya’s war etchings and modern photography with an accompanying exhibition of black-and-white war photographs shot more than a century after the artist’s death.
The war photographs match Goya’s war prints in their degree of agony and destruction.
"Spain boasts of three masters — Velazquez, Goya and Picasso. Each represented a tradition. Goya’s works were more prophetic in quality while Picasso’s art was testimonial almost like modern-day photographs," says Bordes.
He adds, "Goya’s disaster series was very complex and has a large bibliography wherein one can find many angles from which the works have been analysed".
Two in the series of etchings at the Spanish institute, "The Executions" and "Women" shock viewers with their grim snapshots.
A composition in the execution series, "What Else Can You Do", shows four army men carving out a human body with swords. The figures of soldiers in their regalia are grotesque while the victim, a stoutly built man, is bent out of shape with his face contorted in pain. The etchings of women during the war show them in various moods of participation: as guerrilla fighters, furious and valiant crusaders, heroine, collaborator and victims of sexual abuse – atrocities, which are even perpetrated on their corpses. The two-month exhibition will close on September 15. — IANS