Goya’s Black Paintings (1819-1823) form some of the bleakest images in Art History.
When he painted the series of 14 paintings he was old, severely deaf, and dying.
There was no commercial motivation in their creation. He painted them directly onto the walls of his farmhouse just outside Madrid, la Quinta del Sordo (The Deaf Man’s House). They were never sold. Not a single soul reported seeing them. And he mentioned them to nobody.
The works are huge, intense and terrifying. A colossal man, feasting on the flesh of his own son (based on the Roman myth of Saturn). A dog, desperately trying to avoid drowning – paddling to stay afloat in an abstract chasm. Two old men, one already on the cusp of death, with huge, haunting eyes.
What are they about? They’ve fascinated Art Historians for years and many have tried to decipher their meaning. But the truth is, no one knows.
Goya’s pessimistic outlook was justified. He’d been through the chaos of war when Napoleon invaded Spain, as well as several bouts of crippling illnesses that left him deaf, hallucinating, and feeling as though he was losing his mind.
What we do know is that the Black Paintings are true expressions of a tortured soul. One that was alone, and fearing the end.
Unsurprisingly, these works do not make for easy viewing. But they form some of the most poignant and fascinating paintings in history.