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Francisco Goya – between reason and madness

 
Seven years ago, we launched a new series of exhibitions presenting the work of the great masters of printmaking. So far, we have displayed the works of artists who were painting between the late 15th century and 1670s – Dürer and Rembrandt, as part of the exhibitions “Rembrandt and the Descendants of his Tradition” (2010) and “Revolutions in print”. Albrecht Dürer and the German School of Painting of the 15th and 16th century (2011). Currently, switching to another cultural region of Europe, we are moving on to the South, to Spain, where the art of Francisco Goya Lucientes – a court painter and printmaker – blossomed at the turn of the 18th and 19th century. Within the realm of Spanish art, it is Goya who granted printmaking the status of an independent discipline by using etching and aquatint techniques to create autonomous, socially-engaged and expressive visions of the surrounding world. The four great series of prints by Goya: Los Caprichos (Caprices, 1797-1799), The Disasters of War (1810-1820), La Tauromaquia (Bullfighting, 1815-1816) and Los Disparates – Proverbios (Follies – Proverbs, 1815-1823) are considered among the greatest accomplishments of European printmaking, equal to the printmaking legacy of Dürer and Rembrandt.
 
This exhibition shows one of the most important print series, Los Caprichos (Caprices), from the first edition in 1799, which belongs to the collection of the Zielińcy Library of the Płock Scientific Society. The series, comprising of 80 prints, was created after the artist had suffered from a serious illness causing depression and a sense of loneliness, but also releasing in him new creative potential. Caprices reflect the artist's careful and critical observation skills, as well as his subjective opinion on various phenomena. In this multithreaded series, realistic scenes with a touch of satire coexist with allegorical takes and the realm of imagination. The key to grasping the message of the series is the etching entitled Caprice 43, which shows the sleeping artist amidst his working tools, surrounded by a group of night animals and birds – cats, bats and owls. The artist adds a commentary: “Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”
 
Another series – La Tauromaquia (Bullfighting) – is represented on the exhibition by 22 etchings (fourth edition from 1905) belonging to the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw. La Tauromaquia, expressing admiration to great toreadors, in Goya’s interpretation offers a more profound reading as a metaphor of the human struggle against fate.
 
An important addition to Goya's graphic oeuvre displayed at this exhibition are 11 prints out of the set of 18 graphic renditions of Diego Velázquez paintings (1778) from the University Library's collection in Warsaw. The significance of this Spanish painter creating his works during the Baroque period was confirmed by Goya himself when he stated: “I have had three masters, Nature, Velasquez, and Rembrandt”. In this part, we will find mainly portraits: i.e. that of King Philip IV, that of Margaret of Austria, the wife of King Philip III of Spain and that of Philip IV's court dwarf – Sebastian de Morra, as well as scenes from mythology and history of the Antiquity.
 
The presented collection of prints teaches the techniques of intaglio printing used by Goya – etching, aquatint, chalcography and drypoint, which the artist usually used interchangeably in one work, skillfully taking advantage of their different qualities.
 
Barbara Chojnacka
 
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